Over the last several days, there have been more opportunities to share baked goods and homemade treats than I can count on my fingers. At a dimly lit wine bar I sipped a bright Viognier and heard stories about the last ten years from a handful of old friends from this great place of my past, and spent an afternoon chasing after chickens and a friend’s three sons in a giant, fruit tree lined backyard. How nice would it have been to show up with a few bags of buttercrunch toffee for everyone? With a little forethought I could have easily been a more gracious guest (because the buttercrunch toffee sure isn’t doing me any favors sitting on the kitchen counter). Alas, my reflections come with greater clarity (and generosity) than when I am in the moment. Lucky for me, my friends had no idea what they were missing.
Readers, I share this tale of irresponsibility as a cautionary tale. I can make things right with the world again by urging you to share these buttery, crunchy pieces of candy with someone special. You see, a certain (and often dreaded…justifiably so) holiday is around the corner and between now and then I think you could easily make a batch of buttercrunch toffee. It may not be heart-shaped, pink, or made of roses but something tells me that if you made homemade toffee for someone you loved, you would make their day.
Making candy need not be scary, but must be done with confidence. Once that sugar is hot and bubbling away on the stove, you’re in and there’s no turning back. The is-it-done/is-it-not-done period of mild panic and indecision is my least favorite stage of the candy making process but even if you pull it off the stove too soon or too late you probably won’t have a catastrophe on your hands. This afternoon a certain someone named Marguerite maaaaaaay have stopped cooking the caramel too early, so my toffee was a tad grainy.* C’est la vie. Had my candy thermometer been working properly, the toffee would have been perfectly smooth and set by the time it reached exactly 300 degrees. Today though, no one seemed to mind — the platter now is home to only a few crumbs.
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
yields an 8-inch by 10-inch rectangle of toffee
2c toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped**
1/2c (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
generous pinch of salt
1c granulated sugar
1/4c packed light brown sugar
1/4t baking soda
1t vanilla extract
5oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1c chocolate chips
Prepare a baking sheet by coating it with a thin layer of unflavored vegetable oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray. The size of the baking sheet doesn’t matter too much — as long as it can fit a 8-inch by 10-inch rectangle of toffee.***
Sprinkle half of the nuts onto the prepared baking sheet in the shape of a 8-inch by 10-inch rectangle.
Measure and prep all of your ingredients — candy making moves quickly.
In a medium saucepan, insert a candy thermometer and heat the water, butter, salt and both sugars. Cook together over medium heat, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 degrees.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
Pour the caramel mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Do your best to pour as to create an even layer, but this isn’t crucial. It just makes it look pretty.
Scatter the chocolate pieces of the top of the warm caramel and let stand 2 minutes. Using a knife or a offset spatula, spread the chocolate in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them into place with your hands.
Let the toffee cool completely before breaking into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container.
*This would be a good time to tell suggest that you consider investing in a trustworthy candy thermometer. Mine is getting on in years and was, well, cheap to begin with. Maybe it’s time to me to go out and mingle with some new candy thermometers. Any suggestions?
**If you are in the mood to make the toffee extra special, sift the chopped nuts through a sieve to remove some of the nut dust before using the almonds in the toffee.
***You could really mix it up and use a 9-inch square baking pan to create clean edges. When I have made the toffee this way I line it with parchment, then coat with a layer of nonstick cooking spray.