Every year at the office, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, the holiday treats start rolling in. Clients and vendors send holiday wishes and thanks in the form of chocolates, candies, cookies, and more. (Of course, a few of the employees, myself included, contribute as well.)
There is one treat, however, that several of us hold above all others. It’s the one we wait for. I can snub the fancy chocolates and the tins of cookies, and never even give a second glance to cakes or breads that might show up. But this? It’s the stuff of legend.
What is this magical treat? Yep, you guessed it. Toffee.
But not just any toffee. Mind you, I am not a discriminator when it comes to toffee – just about any toffee is good toffee in my opinion. This toffee, however, is different. It’s made by some lady named Carol, presumably (the sticker on the unassuming white box merely says “Carol’s Candies”). She must own a small business where she simply makes these candies on the side, for I can’t seem to find her online anywhere. I have yet to ask the customer that brings them to us about her. But Carol makes the best toffee I’ve ever tasted, hands down. Unlike so many toffees, that are often hard (sometimes tooth-breakingly so), hers are delicate. Tender, even. And of course, they’re sandwiched in between two layers of chocolate and nuts. There’s even nuts in the actual toffee. They’re sweet, subtly salty, buttery, and are basically heaven.
But what perplexed me was the texture. How did she make them so delicate? I pondered this as I slowly nibbled a piece, desperately trying to make it last. Was it the fact that there were nuts in her toffee? Did they break it up somehow? No, that wasn’t it. Was it the final temperature of the sugar? I doubted it, as a lower temperature would just result in softer, gummier candy – not the tender texture I was after. I was determined to go home and experiment to figure this out.
When I started looking at recipes for toffee and other candies that are cooked to hard crack stage, I started to look at the differences. Peanut brittle is definitely hard, and only is easier to break when you add a hefty dose of baking soda. I wasn’t after that thin, honeycomb-shatter attribute of brittle though. And then I saw another component of toffee – butter. Some recipes called for different ratios of butter to sugar. That’s when it clicked. Butter was my secret. Butter makes other things tender, such as cookies, biscuits, and even candies such as pralines. Why not toffee?
And so I set out to make my toffee, upping the butter-to-sugar ratio as high as I could. It’s relatively simple – you spread layers of nuts and chocolate in a sheet pan, cook your sugar-butter mixture, and once it is at temperature, spread it on top of the chocolate and nuts. Sprinkle more chocolate on top, spread it out, sprinkle more nuts, and you’re done. That’s it. What could be easier? I can’t begin to say that my toffee is better than Carol’s, but I won’t lie – this is some pretty grand stuff.
The number one key is to be sure you have all of your ingredients and tools at the ready before you start. As it is when you make any candy, time is such a factor, and stopping to find a spoon or a spatula can ruin your batch. Also, be sure your pan is large enough to accommodate the sugar as it boils. A too-small pan can result in a boil-over of the messiest proportions.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Let the candy-making commence!
- 2⅔ cups slivered almonds
- 1.25 lbs dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
- 1 lb unsalted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons water
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until nuts are chopped. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Process the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips until finely chopped.
- In a rimmed ungreased baking sheet, sprinkle a third of the almonds evenly. Top with half of the chopped chocolate evenly. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, salt and water over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, stirring, until mixture reaches 265 degrees F. Stir in another third of the almonds. Continue to cook, stirring, until mixture reaches 290 degrees F. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract, and quickly pour over the nuts and chocolate in the baking sheet.
- With an offset spatula, immediately spread out the sugar mixture as evenly as possible.
- Working quickly, sprinkle the remaining chocolate evenly over the sugar mixture. Once the chocolate looks completely shiny and melting, use the offset spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer over the toffee. Sprinkle the rest of the almonds over evenly.
- Transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely.
- Break into pieces and store in an airtight container. I imagine this would last a few weeks, but I can't stay away from it long enough to imagine it lasting longer than a few days.