The holidays are just about here, and my only gripe is there isn’t enough time to bake everything I’d like to. My husband Jack and I always spend the holiday on the Central California Coast with family, so I make toffee because it has a long shelf life (in a cold room or the fridge), and travels well (in tins) in my ice chest. Needless to say, everyone loves it and frowns if I don’t make it. I’ll try to bake cookies after I arrive with my sister and daughter in law, provided there’s time. I’m also in charge of the lasagna and pineapple and cheese pie this year, and I need to photograph both so I can post them. Nothing new…I’m going to be busy.
My toffee story: I acquired a taste for toffee while living in the Colorado Rockies, thanks to Enstrom’s Toffee in Grand Junction (about a 3 hr. drive). We mainly went there in the summer to buy bushels of fruit for canning. Long story short, Enstrom’s toffee is simply to die for. We were naughty and splurged on it decadently, with homemade eggnog to boot – when we couldn’t make it home to California for the holidays. Upon relocating to California, my sister learned toffee making 101 from her friend Karen. After trial and error she was making massive amounts of her own version…very chunky with almonds and semisweet chocolate. She gives it as presents. Mine is fashioned after my beloved Enstrom’s milk chocolate almond toffee, though I use hazelnuts; love the combination. You can use whatever you like!
Toffee making isn’t rocket science – I’m not a candy maker…if I can do it, so can you. Just follow the method, precisely. You only need 4 ingredients – butter, sugar, chocolate and nuts. This may look like a lengthy process. Not Really. I just thought it would be good to document it for you in detail, this way there would be no gray area.
1. Prerequisite – The climate of the day and in your kitchen should be mild (not too, hot, cold, or humid)…and absolutely no drafts! This applies to cooking the caramel as well as adhering the chocolate to the caramel.
2. Be organized; I suggest enlisting a friend to assist the first time you make it – especially to trade off stirring, which is constant. You will also need a candy thermometer and a silicone spatula.
3. Toffee is temperamental – once the mixture begins to bubble, the heat source needs to stay constant while cooking the caramel; do not adjust it up or down for any reason (this can cause the mixture to separate and fail).
When I’m on a roll, I pack up and give a lot of tins for gifts. God forbid if you keep a lot around your house…it’s so addicting. Let’s face it, toffee is meant to be shared. Ok, ready? Now I’ll show you how I make it!
I process the hazelnuts until 50% powdery with 50% little bits (Enstrom’s is purely powder). If you prefer chunky, you will need more nuts.
Good chocolate makes a difference. Where I live, Trader Joe’s chocolate fits the bill. Be sure to use a sharp knife to shave into shards.
It takes several minutes for the butter and sugar to melt. Then attach the candy thermometer and stir constantly until the mixture begins to bubble. Then raise the heat to medium and stir constantly – do not readjust the heat from this point on…or the mixture will separate and fail. Trust me – been there, done that!
Watch the thermometer temp. as you continue stirring. If it takes less or more time (than 8 to 12 minutes) for the mixture to turn caramel color and reach 300 degrees F., don’t worry! As soon as the temp. reaches 300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat immediately.
Working quickly, pour the caramel mixture into the prepared pan and spread to 1/4-inch thickness with a silicone spatula. Let it set up for 1-2 minutes.
Sprinkle with the chocolate shavings and let sit for 1 minute. Then gently spread with the back of a large spoon or spatula, until smooth.
Sprinkle and cover with the nuts, and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then transfer the pan to the fridge and cool for 2 hours, until hard.
The toffee should be hard when you break it up; if not, chill longer. Use your fist or tap with the blunt end of a wood rolling pin, to break into rough pieces.
Eat, pack, ship, gift…
all of the above in a waxed tissue or plastic wrap-lined tin. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee
Makes about 2 1/2 pounds
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened, plus more for pan
2 cups sugar
1 12-ounce block milk chocolate (or chocolate chips), room temperature
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts (or almonds)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To toast the hazelnuts: Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes. Wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel to steam for 2 to 3 minutes. Rub together to loosen as many of the skins off as possible. Cool and rough chop the nuts. Transfer to the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until almost powdery with some tiny bits. Set aside.
With a sharp serrated knife, chop the milk chocolate into small pieces and set aside. Line the bottom and sides of an 18 x 13 x 1-inch sheet pan with aluminum foil. Butter a sheet of parchment paper and press to adhere to the foil; butter the top of the parchment paper (or use a silicone matt).
In a 3-quart saucepan, melt the butter and sugar over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes. Attach a candy thermometer, raise the heat to medium, and stir constantly until the mixture begins to bubble (about 5 minutes). Continue stirring constantly for 8 to 12 minutes, scraping down the sides of the pan. Do not change the heat setting – maintain a constant setting throughout the remaining cooking process is essential. The mixture will turn a caramel color in the latter stage of cooking – watch the thermometer closely as you continue stirring. When the temperature reaches 300 degrees F., immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Work quickly, spreading the toffee to a 1/4-inch thickness with a clean silicone spatula, leaving a slight border around the edge of the pan. Let the toffee set up for 1 to 2 minutes, and sprinkle with the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to melt for about 1 minute, and then spread it evenly with a spatula or the back of a large spoon, until smooth and even. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the chocolate, covering it completely. Cool the toffee on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours, until the toffee is completely hardened. Break into rugged, bark-like pieces with your fist, or tap with the blunt end of a rolling pin. Excess nuts will fall off; use them for another batch or to snack on. Pack the toffee pieces in waxed tissue or plastic wrap-lined tins, and refrigerate. Use within 10 days. Clean up: Soak the saucepan and utensils in hot soapy water before washing.