When I was a kid, my Grandma Tingey sent us homemade English Toffee every Christmas. The small, heavy box would arrive, be opened, and its contents consumed all in one day. The problem: Grandma Tingey never sent enough toffee for a family of four. In the fall of my fifteenth year, anticipating the arrival of the toffee box, I asked my mom, “Could we ask Grandma Tingey to send more toffee?”
Mom: “No, that would be rude.”
Me: “Can we ask her to send the recipe so I could make some more for us?”
Mom: “I think that would be kind of rude, too. And besides, I always mess candy up when I try make it. It always sugars.”
Me: “Well, how about we ask her and let her decide if she wants to share the recipe? And I’ll make it. You don’t have to.”
My mother grumbled and muttered about how candy was very hard to make and she didn’t want to do it, but she dutifully requested the recipe. My grandmother replied with the recipe. The opening salvo?
Here’s how to make the candy. If I give you the recipe, should I interpret that to mean I won’t need to send you any more candy?
Nooooooo! I thought to myself. What if I mess it up? What if I can’t make candy? I was terrified. But I decided to try to make the toffee. And… it worked! I’ve been making this almost every holiday season since. I just finished this year’s batch. If I can do it, you most certainly can. I’ll post the recipe below the images, then follow with tips from both my Grandma Tingey and me.
- 1 lb butter
- 2 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4 tbs Karo syrup (light)
- 1/3 lb nuts chopped fine
- 1 one-lb Hershey or Baker Bar milk chocolate
- 1/2 lb nuts rolled or ground fine
Cover bottom of a cookie sheet 10 in. x 15 in. or two 9 in. layer pans with 1/2 of the ground nuts, then grate one half of the chocolate bar over the nuts uniformly.
Cook sugar, water, syrup, and chopped nuts, and butter together stirring constantly until thermometer registers 285 degrees.
Pour cooked syrup over the nut and chocolate layers in the pan you have prepared and let set for about 10 minutes. Grate remainder of chocolate over mixture and sprinkle with remainder of ground nuts.
Let set for 5 hours. Break into pieces as desired.
Yield 5 pounds.
- A candy thermometer
- A fairly heavy weight, flat bottom pan with vertical sides. I use an 8 quart Chantal stock pot because I always double the recipe
- If you use a cookie sheet, make sure it has sides. I’ve always used cake pans
- A wooden spoon to stir. Why wooden? I guess metal spoons make the candy sugar. Here’s what my Grandma said.
See if you can get a piece of hardwood flooring about a foot long to use for stirring. Have it cut straight across the end. You can also trim the grooves off the side. That really doesn’t matter though. This is much more satisfactory even than a wooden spoon. A metal spoon is almost impossible to use. Go someplace where they are laying hard wood floors and beg a scrap. I did. It must be hardwood–soft would sliver.
- Adjust the destination temperature to your elevation. 285 degrees is the sea level temperature. Water boils at lower temperatures at higher elevations. To test your candy thermometer for your elevation, place it in some boiling water. When it has reacted to the heat, read it. Determine the difference between 212 (the boiling point of water at sea level) and the number you read. Subtract this number from 285 to determine the temperature you should cook to. My Grandma lived in Utah, at an elevation higher than sea level. She cooked her candy to 272 degrees.
- Stir the candy constantly. I mean it. It’s easy to scorch, with all the butter and sugar. I stir by keeping the wooden spoon as vertical as possible with the tip on the bottom of the pan. I stir gently.
- When the mixture comes to a boil, it will rise dramatically in the pot. This is why you need a pot with tall, vertical sides.
- Many candy making recipes will tell you to wash down the sides of the pot as the mixture subsides. Sometimes I do this, sometimes I don’t. Today I didn’t, and my toffee didn’t go grainy. YMMV. The point is to prevent graining–when some errant crystal jumps into your bubbling joy and all the sugar grabs on to it and resumes its crystal form. This is a bad thing.
- I always buy more than a pound of chocolate. I get a thicker layer of chocolate top and bottom that way. And plus, I don’t feel quite as guilty when I sample the chocolate while stirring.
- Place the pans into a cool place when you’re all done. I’ve been known to hurry them along by sticking them in the refrigerator, but only when I was living in apartments where the electricity was included in the rent.
- A food processor makes preparing the ingredients pain-free. A sturdy one can be used to grind the nuts fine for sprinkling on top, grating the chocolate, and chopping the nuts that go into the mixture. I do all the chopping and grating up front.
- Use whatever chocolate your heart desires. I happen to love milk chocolate, friends have made it with dark with equal success. I am a bit of a chocolate snob and generally go for a higher quality brand that Hershey or Baker Bar. The point of grating it is so that it will melt and adhere to the candy.
- I generally use walnuts. I’ve tried pecans, cashews, and, one disastrous year, black walnuts. Just say no to black walnuts. Everything else works fine.
- To break the candy up, I pry it out of the pans and hack away at it with a knife. Don’t use your best knife, the tip can break. An ice pick would do nicely, too. This is a messy job, the sprinkled nuts tend to fly all over the place. Collect whatever nuts and chocolate and shards of toffee don’t fall on the floor and save them to sprinkle on ice cream.
- You may have heart failure when you ponder cleaning the pan. Don’t. Set the pan in the bathtub, stick the spoon and the thermometer in it, fill it with water and walk away. Tomorrow, most of the toffee will have dissolved and whatever is left will be easy to pick off.
I recommend making toffee on a dreary day. Your home will fill with the aroma of cooked sugar and caramel; you’ll know the holidays are good.