Wednesday, March 9, 2011

English Toffee

I love toffee. Come on. Who doesn't love a crispy, buttery, sugary layer, topped with chocolate and nuts? Quality toffee gets a little expensive to buy, though. Why pay so much for something that's so easy to make yourself?

I think the scary thing for people about toffee (and other sugar-based candies) is the cooking element. Lots of people don't have candy thermometers (I don't) and what happens if it burns? Then you're stuck with a big, sugary mass and a smelly kitchen. But you can pull off this toffee in your own kitchen, and you don't even need any fancy tools or ingredients.

See? Everything here is probably something you have in your kitchen already.

In a large, nonstick pot, combine the butter and sugar.

Measure out some salt.

Pour in a little water.
Now turn the stove on medium-high. All your ingredients will start to melt together. Using a wooden spoon (or a heat-proof spatula), stir your sugar and butter mixture.

While this is an easy recipe, it's also one I recommend starting only if you know you've got the time to stir. You can't leave this alone for any period of time.

Once the sugar starts to boil, turn the temperature down to medium. Don't stop stirring!

At this point, set a timer for 30 minutes. Just stir, stir, stir.

Do you think your mixture is getting close to being done, but aren't sure? Here's a good way to test. Have a glass or bowl of cold water nearby. Carefully drop a bit of the mixture into the water. With a free hand, fish the candy out of the water.

This is what the mixture looked like after 25 minutes. It's at what they call the "soft ball" stage. The candy should be around 250F. When you take the candy out of the water, it should be firm but pliable.

What we're looking for is the "hard crack" stage, or around 290+F. At that point, the candy coming out of the water should be hard, brittle threads.

Just a few more minutes this point, the candy is around 280F. If you dropped some into water at this point, it would turn into pliable threads.

Here we are, at just the right temperature! Can you see how the color has changed? It should smell deep and caramely.

Carefully pour your toffee onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Smooth the toffee across the whole pan, if necessary (and try to resist the urge to spread it by tipping the pan slightly. Use a spoon or a knife ... the pan is going to be really hot! Not that I know by experience or anything ...)

Let the toffee set for a couple of minutes, and then sprinkle on your chocolate chips. The heat from the toffee will melt the chips.

I loved this part. It's kind of cool to see the half-melted chips! I like the tiny indents they make in the partially-cooled toffee too.

Use a spatula or knife to spread out the melted chocolate.

Sprinkle on your favorite nuts (I used sliced almonds) while the chocolate is still warm. Then set the toffee pan somewhere to cool.

It's around 30F here today--I just set the pan next to a cracked window, and the toffee cooled in no time.

Once the toffee is cooled, you'll want to break it into smaller pieces. I grabbed a butter knife and cut directly into the hard toffee.

The pressure from the knife broke off large chunks of toffee.

I would not, by the way, recommend this if your cookie sheets have any kind of nonstick finish or special coating on them. The knife could do some damage.

If you only have nonstick cookie sheets, I would suggest lining them with tinfoil before pouring on the toffee. Then, once the toffee has cooled, you can lift the tinfoil and the toffee should come right out.
Or, if you have a lot of counter space in your kitchen, you could just flip the cookie sheet over and bang on the back of it until the toffee pops out.

I'd also like to say, these pans are my favorite out of all the sheets and pans I own. I believe they're aluminum--our neighbor gave them to us a couple of years ago. They never stick, and they're light so I can bake butter cookies on them without worrying that they'll get too dark. They're lightweight, they don't warp, they're dishwasher safe, and because there's no finish, I can do things like press knife tips into them. 

By the way, don't throw away the toffee crumbs--save them and sprinkle them over ice cream, or mix them in with your coffee!

I put my toffee in cookie tins and candy boxes to share with friends and family. It makes a pretty (and delicious) gift! Make it for your special people and they'll be shocked and amazed to learn that you made it yourself! 

Recipe: English Toffee

2 c. unsalted butter
2 c. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water

1 12-oz. bag chocolate chips
1/2-3/4 c. chopped nuts

In a large, nonstick pot, combine butter, sugar, salt, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Once mixture reaching boiling, turn heat down to medium and set a timer for 30 minutes.

Continue stirring toffee until timer goes off (or mixture reaches hard crack stage/290F+). Pour mixture onto ungreased cookie sheet. Let sit for a couple of minutes.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot toffee. Once chips have melted, use a knife or spatula to spread chocolate all over toffee. Sprinkle melted chocolate with nuts.

Once toffee and chocolate have fully cooled, break toffee into smaller pieces.

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