By Angela Denstad Stigeler
One of the most treasured kitchen gifts this time of year is the crunchy, buttery confection known as English toffee. Though many kinds of toffee have been in existence since the early 19th century, some brittle, some chewy, the variant we think of today has historically been concocted of a mixture of butter, sugar and treacle. Very little has changed except for the form of our liquid sweetener; more common in today’s average pantry is corn syrup, which cooks up a lighter candy than the original. Using brown sugar and/or molasses in the recipe can more closely approximate old fashioned English toffee, which some culinary historians believe takes its name from its hard texture: imagine someone breaking off a piece of the sweet and declaring it a real ‘toughy’.
Like many other gifts, how you choose to package your toffee is almost as important as the candy itself. You can plan to break the toffee into shards, or score the mixture before it cools to form neat break lines. You can spread melted chocolate over the whole slab, or you can dip neat little bars of toffee into the chocolate to cover. You can also choose to ornament your toffee with golden almonds, other nuts, or leave it plain. As to the actual wrapping and gifting of your homemade toffee, however you decide to decorate it, you can be sure it will be well received.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan and foil
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
1-2 cups toasted almonds, chopped (optional)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, tempered (see below)
Butter a 12-by-18-inch baking pan. Have ready two large cutting boards or cardboard pieces and some parchment paper for turning the candy out of the pan.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stir in sugar, corn syrup, and 3 tablespoons water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat, stir in 1 cup almonds, if using, and pour out into prepared pan, spreading the mixture with the back of a spoon to fill the pan.
Before the candy hardens, but when it is firm enough to handle, turn it out onto a parchment-lined board. Score into small bars, if desired. Allow to cool completely.
Wipe the surface of the candy with a damp paper towel to remove and excess butter, and allow to dry. Using a small offset spatula, quickly spread half the chocolate over the candy and scatter 1/2 cup of the remaining almonds over the chocolate. Cover the toffee with parchment paper, and place the second cutting board on top. Turn the candy over, remove the top board and paper, quickly spread the remaining chocolate, and scatter with the remaining 1/2 cup almonds. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to set the chocolate. Break candy into 2-inch pieces.
Alternatively, break candy along score lines and dip into the tempered chocolate. Garnish with almonds as desired. The candy may be stored in an airtight container at cool room temperature; use parchment paper to separate layers.
For 12 ounces tempered chocolate, melt coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until it registers 115 to 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove bowl from water. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until chocolate reaches 82 to 86 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. At this point, it will begin to set around the bowl’s edges. Return to the pot of hot, but no longer simmering, water for a few seconds at a time until it reaches 88 to 91 degrees. Do not let chocolate become hotter than 91 degrees.