I know a lot about candy. And no, it’s not because I was a professional candymaker for decades (hah!), or studied under some candy-making master. It’s because I was a fat kid screaming to get out of a not-so-fat kid’s body, and I spent all of my money on candy.
I love to look at candy aisles. As a kid, I would spend more time than I care to admit coveting bags of sweets in Kmarts, staring longingly at register endcaps filled with gum and chocolate at grocery stores, and choosing just the right weird candy during pit stops at gas stations. (If you want to find some unusual sizes, flavors, and names of candies, and you’ve never browsed the gas station selection, you should change that right now – they’re seriously the best places to find some weeeeeeird stuff.) I can name candies by looking at cross-sections of candy bars. I once bought and ate 100 full-sized Hershey bars over the course of three months (different kinds, mind you) just so I could get a “free” dumb Almond Joy t-shirt. I still have that shirt, and it’s still soft and comfortable and great, thankyouverymuch.
It is a wonder that I’ve only had one cavity in my life, and that was during a time when I wasn’t gobbling down mounds of sweets. To be fair, my parents did not keep candy in the house (at least where we could find it), and we only got our sugar fix on specific holidays – Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and birthdays – or with our own allowance. Eventually, I did stop spending my money on bags of candy for myself, because a) I watched it get progressively and ridiculously more expensive, b) I’m a grown-ass woman and I don’t need to be eating mounds of candy, and c) I can make and find much better versions of the stuff I enjoy eating in moderation. Making your own candy, and anything, for that matter, makes you more aware of its process, the difficulty (or ease!) of creating that product, reduces packaging, and keeps the money out of companies with questionable ethics (e.g., using slave-trade chocolate).
Ahem. This post is about toffee, too. I promise. Back to my childhood. While I stared at candy racks, I remember seeing Heath bars, but not knowing what the heck they were, or what “toffee” was. I also remember my best friend’s mom ordering a Heath bar Blizzard from Dairy Queen, but at the time, I thought it was a “Health” bar, and promptly avoided it for years. I don’t remember the first time I actually tried the thing, but I’m pretty sure it was after I realized the actual spelling of the name, and I loved it. It was lightly chocolatey, with an unexpected crunch that melted into a crystalline, buttery, caramel chew that makes my mouth water even as I write this.
Imagine my elation when I discovered that I didn’t have to settle for “fun-size” bar versions of toffee, that I could make toffee myself, in my own kitchen. I bought a candy thermometer for just that purpose several years back, and I haven’t gone back to the store stuff ever since.
As with anything homemade, I like that I can decide on different flavors, levels of salt and sugar, and even thickness of the final product. Toffee keeps for a looooong time (weeks, even months, depending on the humidity), ships well, and makes a fabulous gift. You’d better believe I’ll be giving some toffee as Christmas presents this year.
A few notes on making toffee (and candy in general):
- Yes, you can use the tried-and-true cold water test for testing your candy – dropping a ball of the cooked sugar into a cup of cold water, and testing its consistency – but I prefer using a candy thermometer. They’re cheap, accurate, and don’t have you dipping into hot sugar and risking overcooking burning your batch as easily. I will, however, still provide the cold-water test directions in the recipe.
- Hot sugar is no joke – that stuff will burn right through your skin. Be super careful, and don’t multitask while making candy. Watch the pot, and watch yourself.
- Use the right sized-pan. Too small, and the mixture will bubble over, and you get to clean up a nasty, sugary mess from your burner. Too big, and you risk cooking the mixture too quickly and burning it. A 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan will do for smaller batches (like this recipe), while a 4-quart is a good, all-around pan for larger batches and fudge.
I believe that’s it. Ready to make toffee? Let’s do it!
This recipe makes a little over 1 pound of toffee. Yes, you can double it. I sure have – just make sure you use a larger pan, both for cooking and cooling. You can also make chocolate-less toffee. I prefer using semi-sweet or dark chocolate on top to off-set the sweetness of the toffee. For a thicker toffee, use a smaller baking sheet for the final product. For a thinner version, use a larger pan.
You will need:
- 1 c salted butter
- 1 c white sugar
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp light corn syrup
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 10-12 oz chocolate chunks, chips, or pieces (optional)
- 1/2-3/4 c various toppings: toasted nuts, coconut, cocoa nibs, candy pieces, dried fruit, more sea salt, or whatever else your heart desires (optional)
- Line a 9×13 inch baking pan with parchment paper or a Silpat, and set aside.
- In a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in sugar, water, corn syrup, and sea salt, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boiling over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. (If you’re worried about sugar crystals on the side of the pan, you can briefly cover the pot over the lower heat to dissolve them into the mixture. I never worry about them.)
- Clip a candy thermometer, if using, to the side of the pan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently with a spatula to prevent burning on the bottom, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees F (soft-crack stage). You may need to adjust the temperature to maintain a steady boil that doesn’t get too inactive or boils over the pan. The mixture will turn a golden brown as it cooks. Watch this pan carefully, and do not multitask, especially as the sugar begins to turn colors – it will cook very quickly after that! If you are not using a candy thermometer, you can check the mixture for doneness by dropping tiny amounts of the sugar mixture into a cup of cold water using a spoon, and testing the consistency of the cooled sugar with your fingers. You’ll know the toffee is ready when you drop it into the water and it forms hard but pliable threads (soft-crack stage).
- Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and carefully pour the sugar mixture into the prepared 9×13 pan, spreading evenly either with a spatula or by carefully tilting the pan to distribute the mixture.
- If using chocolate: Allow the toffee to cool until just set on top, about 5 minutes (it will still be warm and slightly pliable). Sprinkle chocolate evenly on top of the toffee, and allow to sit for 2-3 minutes until melted. Spread over the top evenly using an offset spatula or butter knife.
- If using other toppings, such as toasted nuts: While the chocolate is still melted and liquid, sprinkle topping evenly over the chocolate, and very lightly press toppings into chocolate.
- Allow the toffee to cool completely at room temperature, about 2-3 hours. Break into pieces of desired sizes, and store in an airtight container. Toffee will keep for at least 2 weeks, but will usually keep longer. Do not refrigerate.
Want this toffee made for you instead by yours truly? You can order some HERE!