"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Candy Take Three: Chocolate Toffee

 If there is one thing that I can't stop eating, it is homemade toffee.  I call this stuff Christmas crack.  It is the perfect combination of sweet and salty; crunchy and creamy (from the chocolate). 

It isn't the list of ingredients that makes toffee a little difficult, it is basically sugar and butter.  It is the cooking time and technique that can be a challenge.  Candy making can be tricky, you have to know terms like soft ball stage and hard crack stage.  You really shouldn't make candy on humid days because the humidity affects the candy's texture.  BUT, don't let those things keep you from trying.  I have made plenty of batches of toffee that were sub par....each time I learned something from the experience.  I will let you know my pitfalls so hopefully you can avoid them.

There is some equipment you will need:
A candy thermometer or an instant read thermometer like the one above.  You will have to cook your toffee to 310 degrees F.  This isn't something you can guess at.
You really need a heavy pot, like this Dutch oven.  I have used a run-of-the-mill pot for this and have had success, but plenty of failures too.  A thin pot has a tendency to heat too fast.  This causes the candy to burn on the bottom while the mixture on top is still too cool.  The heavy pot keeps the temperature steady.  Make sure your pot is big enough.  The sugar will boil and expand...I learned the hard way that it WILL boil over if it doesn't have adequate room.  Nothing smaller than 2 1/2 qts. 

As sugar cooks, it loses moisture.  The amount of moisture in the cooking sugar has actual properties we can recognize.  At 240 degrees F, enough moisture has left the sugar to form a soft ball when some of the syrup is dropped into cold water. This is called the soft ball stage.  Fudge must come to this temp.   At 265, you reach the hard ball stage.  Syrup dropped into cold water will form a hard ball.  Marshmallows and gummies have to come to this temperature.  At the soft crack stage, you have reached 290 degrees and a lot of moisture has left.  Cold water will reveal threads that will bend.  Salt water taffy gets to this stage.  The hard crack stage is where we are going and you reach it at 310 degrees.  By this point, most of the moisture has left and syrup dropped in cold water will make threads that are brittle.

The last thing we need is time...it takes a good 15 minutes of constant vigilance and stirring to get to the hard crack stage.

Let's get started, shall we?

1 c. butter (no margarine!)
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. water (the water is insurance...it helps the butter and sugar not to burn before you reach 310)
1/2 t. salt
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. shortening
1 c. toasted chopped pecans

Line a large baking sheet with foil.  In a Dutch oven (or other large heavy saucepan), combine sugar butter, water and salt.  Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat.  Set your timer to 15 minutes just for insurance.  I start taking its temperature at around 10 min.  Also, do NOT walk away from this.  Sugar burns FAST.
Below is what it looks like after 5 minutes of boiling...a little thicker.....keep stirring!
This next pic below is after about 10 minutes, thicker and darker.  I start taking its temperature now.  Don't let the thermometer touch the sides or bottom of the pot.  It will give you a false reading.
This next picture below is what butter and sugar look like at 310 degrees.
It is ready to come off and be poured onto that lined baking sheet. 

(I would have loved to take pictures of me pouring this molten candy onto the sheet but I was by myself....and the pot was heavy!  I couldn't pour and snap a pic at the same time.)  After you pour your candy onto the prepared sheet, spread it out with a metal spatula to about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch.  You'll need to work quickly, it will cool fast.
At this point, let this cool to room temperature.  Sometimes, after it cools, I find that some oil has come up on the top of the candy.  If that happens, just take a clean paper towel and wipe this off. Otherwise, the chocolate will have a tendency to separate from the toffee.  After the toffee has completely cooled, place the chocolate chips and shortening in a large microwavable bowl and cook for 30 second increments in the microwave until melted.
 Pour the chocolate onto the toffee and spread all over.

  Then sprinkle with toasted pecans, pressing the nuts into the chocolate.

Let the chocolate harden, then take a sharp knife and press through to cut it.  It will take a bit of pressure to go through.  Cut into 3 inch squares.  This candy makes terrific gifts....that is, if it makes it out of the house. 

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