Toffee Mantras

I love making toffee at Christmastime. Start to finish of a pan of toffee takes about 25 minutes. The results can be generously divided between 5-6 families (causing 5 pounds of instant weight gain). My first Christmas as a wife brought me to the kitchen of my mother in law, Laura. She had given me a book for our wedding filled with her favorite recipes. Toffee was in there, and I had tasted this. It was incredible. I have had nothing like it. But it was candy making, and there was no way in heck I was going to attempt this by myself. At a girls activity growing up, a neighbor showed us how to make butter brickle or something. She was stressed, we were stressed. It scared the heck out of me.

Fast forward 8 years. I was nervous, but wanted to learn. Laura told me that this was a secret recipe given to her by a woman in her neighborhood, who had recently passed away. This woman was reluctant to give her the recipe, and I nodded solemnly that I wouldn’t share it online or anything.

Although I won’t be able to share this recipe online, I will give you some tips. I am sure you can apply them to most any toffee recipe. I love cooking tips. I don’t usually Netflix binge, but a show caught my attention that has yet to let go: The Great British Cooking Show. It is a visual delight, yet surprisingly foreign. It is full of tips. Tip isn’t the best word. It almost makes me back away. To me these are mantras, because I repeat them again and again, when I’m hovering over a pan of bubbling sugar. Laura did multiple pans with me, and when I make it in my own home, I still hear the words take me through the task.

Mantra 1: Plan on not getting it 100% right your first batch. Even after years of doing this, I still don’t get the first batch of the year perfect. It’s either too soft, or something else happens. Trust me, the first batch will still be wonderfully edible.

Mantra 2: Get a dang good pan. Laura gave this one to me. I don’t know what it’s called. It’s thick, heavy, and it’s my candy making pan. DI sometimes has them. A pasta making pan or a sauce pan will not do.
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Mantra 3:

Figure 8 stirring. Constantly. I cook my toffee on medium high. I pull up a chair and settle down for the stir. Make a figure 8 as you stir to help ensure even distribution of heat to all those sinful ingredients. The picture above shows the toffee mixture just starting to boil, and the picture below shows the mixture 5 minutes later. It doesn’t change for a while, but, it will.

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Mantra 4: Watch… but look away occasionally so you don’t get confused. It’s kind of like saying or writing a word over and over for a while. After a bit, you’re not even sure if that’s a real word. RO-AD. LIM-IT. Anyway, I have tried timing it, and once it’s boiling it might take me about 8 minutes to get to the right color. This is about 2 minutes later, nowhere near ready, but at the same time, it’s getting there. You will notice darker streaks that you’re stirring in. OH, I can almost smell it now.

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Mantra 4: If you take it out too soon, it will stick to everyone’s teeth! You don’t want that. A good color of toffee is a little lighter than gingerbread…Gingerbread that isn’t burnt. 🙂

Very suddenly, as with baking cookies or bread, this can go from underdone to a bit burnt within seconds. Keep stirring. Don’t take it out too soon for fear you are burning it! Watch, and stand up from your chair (if you’re “not a stander” like me).

don’t use a candy thermometer. It may have saved me a few messed up pans, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as hitting that sweet spot and knowing that is the perfect color. The thermometer would distract me.

I was terrified to photograph and stir this piping hot mixture, but I wanted you to see how it’s balling up a little, and getting more and more streaks. The picture isn’t showing the steam. The toffee will start to puff out steam, and that’s my favorite part! Those little holes are steam holes, and as you stir them, the color will deepen and darken.

YOU AREN’T DONE YET! But so close!

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Mantra 5: move quickly. Here’s the color of choice for me. Don’t stop stirring. Take a hot pad in one hand, and keep stirring as you move this to a cool burner. Stir in the nuts and keep going until incorporated. The toffee will immediately start to harden, so get it to a sheet pan, but do it safely. Also – NO KIDS IN THE KITCHEN DURING CANDY MAKING! Really. They could get severely burnt.

I use a metal spoon after shaking it around to spread it. The toffee will start to stick. I then get the chocolate on top, and let it melt a minute before spreading it with a different metal spoon.

Mantra 6: Lick the spoon after you spread… mandatory.

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After you sprinkle more nuts on the chocolate, the chocolate just has to set. Which can take a couple hours. So, if you’re in a rush you can put it in the garage or outside as long as it’s protected from cats or wild children.

I’ve never been aesthetically picky, I just get it on there and I do my best and then I’m like, “good enough!” and hoo boy. Once it’s hardened, I take a butter knife, break it up into pieces of varying sizes, and get it to those neighbors/coworkers/family members. It’s one of the few things I am proud to make.

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That was my first cooking post ever! Thanks for sharing your time with me. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

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