December 8, 2009

Candy in the kitchen

Toffee is one of those holiday candy making numbers that makes a great homemade gift, especially for food-loving people, much like homemade cookies, caramels, and fudge. It would make a nice gift for anyone, really. Not many I know would refuse. Sometimes the more thoughtful gifts, homemade or otherwise, are the most appreciated, simply because time and effort are spent in preparing it. Food can often hit that mark. Everybody likes to eat, and sweets please a variety of people, especially when they include a layer of dark chocolate and toasted nuts.

This particular toffee turned out softer than toffee usually does, but that's probably because chopped nuts are stirred in while it's hot, which doesn't allow the candy to bind together as well and harden as much. That's my theory, any way. Other hard toffees I've tasted have only been sprinkled with nuts, not had them stirred in, so it's a reasonable theory. The temperature the mixture is cooked to makes a huge difference -- that's key to making proper candies, really -- but I wouldn't increase the temperature at all with this one. That could turn into a complete disaster. I've only recently turned my hand to making candy, and this is the first real success that I've had. Cooking mixtures of butter and sugar over the stove to a particular temperature can be tricky, as the level of heat and tempo of stirring varies with each recipe, and at different stages within a recipe, and can adversely affect the end result if not done properly. At any rate, a softer toffee is rather nice, being a bit easier to chew and all, without the feeling that you'll crack your teeth like with some hard candies. Because of its consistency, and the chocolate, the toffee needs to be stored in the fridge.

If you don't want to share but want to keep the toffee all to yourself, that's fine, too. I wouldn't blame you. Part of the fun of holiday baking and candy making is the sharing part, though. Well, except when stuff doesn't last long. Then hardly any one gets to enjoy the goodies. Satisfaction comes in knowing that everyone enjoys, and savors, what I make. When people come over, friends, family members, whoever, and try a bite of the latest thing out of the kitchen, and that look of taste-bud-happiness spreads through their senses and over their faces, I know I'm doing something right.

Mixed-Nut Spiced Toffee
Adapted from Bon App├ętit, December 2002

1 ¼ (2 ½ sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
⅓ cup water
1 Tbsp honey
¼ tsp ground allspice
2 cups coarsely chopped toasted mixed nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, and almonds
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Butter a 13x9x2-inch rimmed baking sheet. Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Add both sugars, water, honey, and allspice. Stir until sugars dissolve. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat to medium and boil until thermometer registers 290° F, stirring slowly but constantly and scraping bottom of pan with wooden spatula, around 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Mix in 1 ½ cups nuts. Immediately pour candy onto prepared sheet. Spread toffee to ¼-inch thickness. Immediately sprinkle chocolate atop toffee. Let stand 1 minute. Using back of a spoon, spread chocolate over toffee. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup nuts. Chill 1 hour. Break toffee into pieces. Store in an airtight container, layered between wax paper, in the refrigerator.

1 comment:

  1. I made this recipe with Hannah as well. The chewy texture was a pleasant departure from hard candy. Be sure to use good chocolate and pay close attention to the temperature! The second photo on the posting gives a good idea how the toffee layers are supposed to look when it's finished. -- Michael