Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Toffee

I spent the day making candy, that is after I wapped presents and spent about an hour in 8° arctic,windy cold hacking away at over an inch of ice entombing my car. I broke my scraper... I guess it really wasn't meant to be used like a fireman's axe. When my ears started to burn despite a hood and hat, I decided to call it quits, done or not. A strong north wind will kill your ambition like nothing else.

So once I could feel my hands and ears again, I decided to have some fun. Making candy is fun. Now, I wish I had some secret ingredient that made this toffee recipe unique, but alas, I do not. This may be just about the easiest candy in the world to make. Which is a good thing, because once you start sharing it with your friends, you're going to be making it over and over. One year, I think I ended up making 10 batches and had requests for more.

Classic Toffee
1 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 cup sugar
3 T. light corn syrup
1/2 to 3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely chopped (or ground) pecans or walnuts, optional

Before you get started, prepare a cookie sheet by either spaying with PAM or lining it with a parchment sheet. I like parchement, it makes life much easier when you're dealing with multiple batches. You'll also need to have a couple of hot pads or a towel under the cookie sheet, cause there's not much hotter than the molten sugar lava you're about to be dealing with!

After years of making candy in various pans, I've learned 2 things.
1. You always need a larger pan than you think you will.
2. Once you find the right pan for you, guard it with your life. Mine's a nice deep Revereware saucepot.

Lets's get started. Put the butter, sugar and corn syrup into a large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly as the sugar dissolved and melts into the butter. Now for my electric stove and my beloved pan, that means the number 4 setting.

Keep heating until the mixture begins to boil. It will be a light lemony yellow color for quite a while, and then it will start to thicken and you'll see it gradually turn light tan. Starting to understand the lava reference?

Now it's the most critical part of this whole process. If the phone rings, don't answer it! I'm not kidding, this next part goes fast. Trust me on this. DO NOT WALK AWAY.

Continue stirring this boiling molten sugar until it reaches 305°. If you're going to make candy, you need a thermometer. There's no messing around here, no eyeballing and praying. Adjust heat as necessary to avoid scorching. And keep stirring!

This will take about 20 to 25 minutes. By this time, the candy will be thick and will have turned a nice golden brown. See how the upper part of the candy has changed color, just a bit...that's the magical indicator of just right and 1 blink later, scorched beyond belief... and probably buying a new pan.

Notice how the pan is slightly off the burner? For me, it's easier to move the pan off and on the burner to help control the heat. And pay attention to how thick this candy is at this point, building up quickly on the indsides of the pan and looking like it could support life?

Remove from heat. Working quickly, pour the toffee onto the cookie sheet, spreading with a wooden spoon to desired thickness, generally about 1/4 inch thick. Don't be poky about this, you need to work fast to get it on the cookie sheet before your spoon is permanately cemented to your pan!

Immediately sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. You don't need to completely cover the top, just evenly distribute the chips. Wait a few minutes for them to melt.

Then, spread the melted chocolate across the hot toffee. I find this easiest to do with the back of a soup spoon. Be extra careful not to grab the pan, it's incredibly hot right now. If you're a nut person, now is the time to sprinkle the melted chocolate with nuts. Gently press then in place.

Cool toffee completely. Break into bite size pieces, and enjoy one of life's little pleasures.

It's really much easier to make than it is to talk about, so get in the kitchen!!! you want to do this NOW and you just don't have a candy thermometer. All is not lost. Do it the way your Grandma did, with the cold water test. Liquid sugar at the 305° range is referred to as "hard crack stage". That means that when a bit of molten sugar syrup is dropped into a glass of cold water, it will harden very quickly(in seconds) into a mass. Take it out of the cold water and you should have a nice snap or crunch when you test it's consistency.

Don't freak out about making candy. You are absolutely going to burn some batches. You'll have some candy that doesn't get cooked enough and stays too soft of gooey. It's o.k. It's part of the process. Actually, I think it's part of the master plan, to weed out those wanna be candymakers who only show up at Christmas time and never try it through out the year....oh, wait that's something else entirely. So, go for it. Make a mistake. Try it again. Then when you master it and you KNOW the magical moment when sugar become candy, you'll really have something to be proud of. And your family and friends will love you forever. Think of toffee as your little insurance policy!


Chia said...

Thursday night I made a batch of Peanut Brittle for Recliner Man to take into work. That's become a holiday tradition. I've never tried Toffee though. Looks good. Funny that you mention finding the perfect pan. The one I use works perfectly but is just barely large enough for my brittle recipe and while making it this year I decided I needed to start a search for the perfect pan before next year, and another hot splatter on my hand, comes around.

Susan who? said...

That looks FABULOUS. I think you should send me a care package from Nebraska...

My word verification word was: SPANTAG. Sounds like underpants to me...