This year, everyone in my office received a bag of this:
Toffee. It was a somewhat daunting prospect because my co-worker, Nancy, is a toffee connoisseur and because, until two weeks ago, I had never made toffee. After searching through my cookbooks and several on-line recipe banks, I decided on this recipe from Epicurious, a play on the contrast between salty cocktail nuts and sweet, caramelized butter.
The results were outstanding and addictive. I predicted that none of the bags I delivered to my co-workers last Wednesday morning would make it out of the office at the end of the day. When I was wrong, I was totally disappointed — had I been blinded by my own candy-making self-satisfaction? It turns out that not everyone is a glutton like me, curiously popping morsels of new food into their mouths regardless of the hour or their own hunger. Although most folks waited until later that evening to sample, everyone loved it. My boss even called me this week from vacation to ask, “Did you make that delicious toffee I found on my desk last week?” Yes, yes I did. And you can too.
Cocktail Nut Toffee
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2002
This recipe requires the use of a candy thermometer. If you don’t have one, you can test the temperature of the candy by dripping a few drops of the mixture into cold water. According to Joy of Cooking, 290º is the soft crack stage when “firm strands that can be stretched or bent when removed from the water” appear. Whatever — invest in a candy thermometer. Once the hot butter and sugar mixture gets above 275º, the temperature rises so quickly that you won’t have time to fuss with a spoon and a bowl of cold water to test the temperature of the mixture.
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup water
½ tablespoon molasses
½ tablespoon corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon allspice
2 cups coarsely chopped, toasted mixed nuts (I used cashews, almonds and pistachios)
5 oz. bitter or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or you can use chocolate chips)
Line a half-sheet pan with buttered wax paper or a silicone baking sheet. (The candy is sticky and the Silpat’s usefulness here outweighed my hatred of cleaning the Silpat, so if you have one, use it here.) If your nuts aren’t pre-toasted and chopped, toast, chop and combine them now. Remove ½ cup of the nut mixture and chop them very fine; set these aside to sprinkle on top of the candy.
Melt the butter in a heavy, 3 ½ quart saucepan over low heat. Add the sugars, water, molasses, corn syrup, salt and allspice. Stir the ingredients to dissolve the sugars. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to the pan (the bottom of the thermometer should be submerged in the mixture, but should not touch the bottom of the pan). Increase heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly but slowly with a wooden spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan (especially the corners) until the mixture reaches 290 º, about 15 minutes.
Initially, the mixture will look separated, the melted butter floating on top. As you continue to cook it, however, the ingredients will incorporate into a thick and cohesive mixture, looking almost solid (and lava-like) by the end.
When the temperature reaches 290 º remove the pan from the heat and mix in the 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped nuts. Immediately pour the toffee onto the prepared sheet pan, and spread the candy out to about ¼” thickness. The mixture will be EXTREMELY hot.
Let the candy sit for about two minutes, then sprinkle with the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand for another minute before spreading the now melted chocolate in a thin layer across the toffee with the back of a spoon or a silicone spatula. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup finely chopped nuts over the candy. Let the candy rest, at room temperature, for 1 hour, then chill the candy in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour more. Once the candy is cool and the chocolate is set, break the toffee into shards and store in an air-tight container, either in the refrigerator (for up to 2 weeks – ha! Like it will last that long) or at cool room temperature.