Christmas just isn't Christmas around our house without at least one big batch of English Toffee. Fortunately, this is not a great challenge. It's relatively inexpensive, and takes less than an hour to put together (it takes a little longer to cool, and, really, that's the part with the greatest hardship – you see it sitting there for hours, looking all chocolatey and nutty and buttery, and you don't dare dig into it for fear you'll cover yourself in melted chocolate and be caught in the act). It's also very easy to make. All you need for equipment is a jelly roll pan (a nice 13"x18" cookie sheet with sides), a regular flat cookie sheet, a heavy-duty 6-quart saucepan, a candy thermometer, and a stirring tool, such as a wooden spoon. Cooling racks are useful, too, but I've been known to set my jelly roll pan on a folded towel, in the past, when my cooling racks were filled with cookies. The rack isn't all that special, just an aid to making the process work a little faster. And you'll need a nice, big spatula and a nice, big knife.
Also, if you're fussy, you may want a small bowl of water, and, either a pastry brush or a paper towel handy, so that you can damp-brush the crystallized stuff off the sides of the pan and back into the mix as it boils, and it won't make the candy grainy. Otherwise, if you opt out of that, when you stir, just be sure you don't scrape the pan's sides. The bottom, lots of times, but not the sides.
Anyway. That's all the equipment you need.
Beyond the gear, though, the ingredients are also simple and few: sugar, butter, water, chocolate chips, and pecans. It's easy-peasy; if you keep a gluten-free kitchen, it's also safe for friends on that special-needs diet. However, if your friend is on a low-carb diet, he or she is SOL, as they say.
Whatever the circumstances, with a little bit of focus, you can impress the heck out of your friends who may be still intimidated by hot stoves and sharp objects.
|Shoo, sweetie. This chubby leg is not providing you a lap just now.|
Since you're working with boiling sugar, I don't recommend you invite your small people into the kitchen to help with the initial work (they can help when you apply the chocolate and nuts, and beyond). If your small people are of the furry variety, though, I suggest you bribe them to stay in the other room for the entire duration (closed and locked doors may be necessary). After all, without opposable digits, they can't stir very well, and, well…nobody likes bits of whisker and floof in their candies.
Just set yourself up for an hour without that help.
Then get going. Make a big batch.
2 cups sugar
2 cups (1 lb.) butter
6 Tablespoons water (I used bottled water because our tap water still tastes like licking a cave floor)
2 cups chocolate chips or your favorite dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped (the original recipe The Bat found calls for finely chopped, but we like recognizable elements where we can include them. Or, as The Bat has said often over the years, "It's good to see and know the nuts in our house." But I digress.)
Prepare a jelly roll pan by lightly buttering it. Set aside.
Chop your pecans. Set aside, along with the chocolate chips.
In a heavy-duty saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and water.
|Just a reminder: this is NOT a low-fat, low-carb food|
Over medium-high heat, set to boil, stirring frequently.
|Double, double, not much trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble|
You'll want to continue to keep an eye on this, stirring more frequently as the temperature rises above 225º F. It will begin to darken, and, if you don't stir carefully during its last stages, it will burn on the bottom of the pan. Your nose will tell you if that happens. Don't force your nose to have that responsibility. Stir. Stir. Stir. Figure eight, big circle, sweep-across, infinity, big circle, sweep across. Cover the whole bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon.
When your candy thermometer indicates the mixture has reached 300º F (just 2º shy of hard crack stage), remove from heat and pour into prepared jelly roll pan.
|Let the chips fall where they may|
Sprinkle your chocolate onto the hot toffee, and allow a minute or so for the chips to melt.
|Covered in chocolate…is this heaven?|
Sprinkle your chopped pecans over that.
With a large knife, score the candy deeply while still hot, to measure out the size of pieces you'd like to have it break into (I like them about 1 1/2 inches square. The Bat likes them slightly larger). Pretend they're candy bars – do you want them bite-sized, or jumbo, or something in between? Go for it.
|Now comes the hard part: letting it cool and then giving most of it away|
Allow to cool completely. You want that chocolate completely firm before you try to take the candy from the pan, because what you'll need to do is place a flat cookie sheet over the top of your candy pan and then flip the whole thing, flexing the jelly roll pan to break loose the candy. It will land upside-down on the cookie sheet, and you'll need to handle it, to put it right-side up.
If any of it sticks to the jelly roll pan, peel it away with a fine metal spatula and don't worry if it doesn't come off smoothly and squarely.
|Candy, little girl?…|
|Random degrees of decadence|
As you may have noticed, some pieces broke apart into random shapes. This is a good thing. The squared ones are for people who have problems with that random element (squares, themselves, IMHO). The bits-and-pieces ones allow us to pick and choose from tiny, small, medium, and large-ish bits, depending upon how naughty we feel at that moment. Think of them as the toffee cousin to brittle – when was the last time you saw squares of peanut brittle? Just grab a bite and live a little!
Or, throw them in a little parchment-lined gift box, put an arty bow on it, and try not to cry as it all leaves your house.