Candy. Candy candy candy. I reflexively think of myself as a candy lover but when I visit places like Dylan’s Candy Bar, I’m overwhelmed by colorful options and fruity aromas. I’ll eat Red Vines (or Twizzlers as we call ‘em back home), Mary Janes, and the occasional Dot. But what I’m really after are the M&Ms, Reese’s, Snickers, and Milk Duds.
So, OK, I like chocolate. As distinct from candy. So where do the twain meet? In toffee. And why not? Such a delectable happy marriage. Full disclosure: Wrap chocolate around sugar cooked anywhere between 245° and 290° F and I’ll eat it. But toffee is special. Buttery maybe? With the chocolate and the nuts? I love it and will enjoy everything from an Almond Roca all the way to fancy artisanal products. I’m not beyond paying $15 for 8 ounces of handmade goodness.
Second only to eating toffee is making it. It’s so dang easy, people. Just make sure you have a good thermometer and work carefully. I’ve made many toffee recipes but my go-to, all time fave is from Rose Levy Beranbaum – Mahogany Buttercrunch Toffee. The key? Brown sugar. Oh my my my my. I use the recipe from her book Rose’s Christmas Cookies. I’ve made it so often, I can make it from memory. (Which is impressive to people when we’re sitting around and I say, “Toffee anyone?” and then pop into the kitchen and whip some up.)
Like I did this week. OK, the only people sitting around with me were a dog and two cats who don’t eat toffee but I like to think they’re impressed by my efforts. It was one of those nights – I want something, what do I have on hand? Brown sugar, butter, chocolate, almonds. Always in the pantry. It takes about 20 minutes. The toffee hardens almost immediately, the chocolate takes some time. So when wanting instant gratification, I put the tray in the fridge for 15 minutes. Nom nom nom.
A touch of nostalgia
In writing this piece, I thought about my earliest toffee memories. While not toffee per se, what I remember is Callard & Bowser Butterscotch. It came in a white package wrapped in cellophane. Each piece was a tablet about an inch long wrapped in foil. I think my grandfather turned me on to this, it seems like he always had it on hand. I’m not generally into butterscotch (you can keep your Werther’s and your Pick-A-Mix disks), but this was something altogether different. Heavy on butter, light on sugar. I came across this lovely ode to the C&B Butterscotch on candyprofessor.com, which is itself a lovely blog that appears to be not currently active. She expresses the wonders of this wonderful confection better than I could.
Toffee Lessons Learned
- Focus, focus, focus. I don’t think anyone wants to see a picture of the scar on my forearm from the time I wasn’t 100% focused on the task. Take it from me – 250° sugar syrup on the arm is painful. (Also, if anyone is also still under the delusion that butter is meant to resolve a burn, forget it. Cold water is your only response.)
- Trust your thermometer, but verify. Boil water and put your thermometer in. Account for any degrees above or below 212°F or 100°C.
- Chocolate. Less is more with the darkness here, IMO. I use Valhrona Manjari (64%) or Caraibe (66%). If the chocolate is too dark, I feel like that’s all I taste.
- Almonds. I don’t toast them. And I use less than suggested. I’m not in it for the nuts.
- Prepare your workspace. Pre-measure your vanilla and baking soda and set near the stove. Set your prepared baking sheet nearby as well. I set up an assembly line of stove – potholder on counter – pre-measured vanilla and baking soda – prepared baking sheet. Once the sugar syrup is the right temperature, speed is of the essence.
Mahogany Buttercrunch Toffee
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum
1 ¼ c blanched, sliced almonds, coarsely ground (toast if you want, I don’t)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ c firmly packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs water
½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 oz. semisweet chocolate (64% cacao), coarsely chopped
Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat or butter generously, and set near the stove. Set your pre-measured vanilla and baking soda nearby as well.
Sprinkle about half the nuts over a 7 x 10 inch area on the cookie sheet. Set it near the stove. Have the vanilla and baking soda nearby as well.
In a heavy-based saucepan, preferably nonstick, combine the brown sugar, water and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (trying not to disturb the thermometer), until the mixture reaches 285°F on a candy thermometer. Mind the heat: The first few times I made this, I had the heat too high and the syrup cooked too fast and scorched. While Burnt Caramel is trending in ice cream, it’s not so nice in toffee. Medium high heat, please.
Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat [onto the potholder] and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. Pour the toffee mixture carefully and evenly onto the nuts, keeping within the 7 x 10 rectangle.
Working quickly, scatter the chocolate onto the toffee. Press the chocolate lightly with your fingertips so it starts melting.
Let it sit for five minutes so the chocolate is soft enough to spread in an even layer over the surface of the toffee. Dust the chocolate with the remaining almonds. Leave the toffee to cool completely, then break it into irregular pieces, or refrigerate if you just can’t wait.
You can store the toffee in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month. But you won’t have to. I keep it on the counter in a Ziploc bag. It lasts about a day and a half.
Chunky Toffee: Sometimes I want thick pieces. When I do, I generously butter the bottom of an 8×8 square pan and sprinkle with the nuts. Everything else is the same except I go a little easier on the chocolate. When ready, I poke it sharply with a knife point to break and then go from there.
Note: Apparently Rose has updated the recipe in her latest book The Baking Bible. She now puts chocolate on the bottom and the top, as described delightfully here.