Sunday, November 16, 2008

Preparing for the Holidays - Testing out toffee

Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away and it's a little later than usual this year, which means the holidays will be here before we know it. This year I'm hoping to cut back on my holiday shopping a little, but my alternative plans need their own prep work.

Growing up, my family always did a huge baking weekend before the holidays. We'd make hundreds of dozens of cookies, fudge and peanut butter balls. And then we'd give plates away to nearly everyone we knew - my parents' coworkers, neighbors, the postman - even the newspaper delivery person. It was a great tradition in that it got the whole family into the kitchen, working together, talking, laughing and really getting into the holiday spirit. Obviously I have fond memories of this tradition, so this year, I've decided to do my own "cookie blitz" and give away goodie bags to neighbors, party hostesses, etc. instead of the standard (and tired) bottle of wine or other trinket.

One of the things I wanted to try was making my own toffee. I found a good basic recipe online at, but then realized it called for a candy thermometer and chocolate chips, neither of which I had on hand or wanted to go out for.

At this point I was craving toffee, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and make a small batch adapted to suit the ingredients I had on hand and my lack of a candy thermometer. It could have been a total disaster and waste of ingredients, but I was actually so happy with how it turned out that I think this is the recipe I'm going to stick with for the holidays. Yay for throwing caution to the wind for once!
Here's how I did it:

1/2 cup butter (NOT margarine)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

3/4 cup chopped pieces of Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate
10 almonds, chopped

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.

Combine butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until butter is completely melted. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Stir about every 30 seconds or so until the mixture is a dark caramel color (like maple syrup). Drop a small amount of the mixture into a glass of cold water. If it hardens instantly and is crunchy to the bite - the toffee is ready. (If you have a candy thermometer, the original recipe this is adapted from says to cook it until it's 285 degrees.)

Once the toffee is ready, pour it into the parchment-lined 8x8 pan. Sprinkle chopped up dark chocolate over the top and let sit 2 minutes to soften. Gently spread the melting chocolate over the toffee with a silicone spatula. (It will continue to melt as you spread it - so keep spreading - you'll get there!)

Here's where it gets a little odd. I like nuts & sweets together; Mr. valleywriter does not. So I took the chopped almonds and sprinkled them over just half of the pan of toffee and left the other half nut-free for the hubby. If you want to make a full batch of nut-topped toffee, double the amount of almonds.

Refrigerate toffee until fully cooled. Peel off parchment paper from the bottom and break toffee into pieces to serve.

Here's how my 1/2 nut (in the front), 1/2 nut-free (in the back) batch turned out:

Both were good, so I'll probably do a batch of each during the cookie blitz. Now I just have to figure out what else to make. Help me get some ideas by telling me what your favorite kind of Christmas cookie is. (And thanks in advance if you do!)


Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Hey there Valley Writer. Hope you're feeling semi decent. I know the change in weather bothers me, so I'm sure it goes for you too. I love toffee. But I always thought it would be too difficult to make. I thought about making some bark, but I think I'll try your recipe. Thanks for sharing.

Jen said...

Yum!! Can I use your toffee recipe on my Web site foodorelibrary?

Lemme know!


ValleyWriter said...

Jen - you're welcome to use the recipe - I'd just ask that you give a link to my blog somewhere in your post. Enjoy!

Sophie said...

Toffee is such a great Christmas gift! Making those cookie bags is a good idea. I'd love to include your adapted recipe on our blog. Please email me if you're interested :).

Sophie, Key Ingredient Chief Blogger