10 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Butter Crunch Toffee

'Twas two weeks before Christmas, and all around,
People were frantic with presents to be found,
For good friends and family and in-laws and more,
And a small Kris Kringle was also called for...

When people ask me what I want for Christmas I always say something edible or useful. The same goes for giving presents, you are either going to get the Bureau of Meteorology Calendar (I always get one for myself too), or you are going to get a homemade treat that you don't get all year round. It is a personal gift that tastes good, doesn't take up space after Christmas and most of all - it is made with thought and care. My mum taught me the joy of homemade candy making and even more, homemade candy eating, from a young age. Part of our Christmas tradition is to set aside a day to make candy - fudge, divinity, penuche, the occasional marzipan fruit and always a crunchy buttery toffee. Half of the candy would be piled onto gift plates nestled in cellophane and tied with ribbon to give to family and friends, the rest was for us.

Toffee is not hard to make once you know what you are doing and the result is amazing. The main thing to get a handle on is the various stages sugar goes through when heated and when to remove it from the heat for your particular toffee. The two ways to know when your toffee is done are:
  1. To use a candy thermometer, the recipe will tell you the temperature you are looking for then you just remove from the heat.
  2. The cold water method which involves dripping a little of the sugar syrup into a bowl of cold water then feeling it and looking at its properties to work out what stage the sugar is at.
Don't worry if you don't have a thermometer, I don't use one, and the cold water method is not as difficult as it sounds. Essentially it is just cooling the syrup to how it would be if you stopped cooking right then, and therefore what your finished toffee will be like eg. if the cooled syrup is chewy enough to pull out a filling, in this case it is not the toffee you are looking for; but if it has that satisfying crunch - you're there, remove from heat and away you go. Just a Pinch has an excellent explanation with photos of the various stages sugar will go through and its properties for candy making.
My three golden rules for making toffee...
  1. Be organised - get out and measure ingredients, line baking trays, have everything set up ready to go before you melt the sugar, once it gets going you don't want to be looking around for something
  2. Read the recipe all the way through more than once, know what the processes are so you will be ready for them
  3. Be careful and remove anything small and curious from the room - children, pets... you are working with super hot sugar which can cause terrible burns, the last thing you or your loved ones need are silent paws padding into the kitchen then little claws walking up the back of your leg making you jump while you are focused on pouring molten toffee on to a baking tray
  • 1 cup caster sugar (220 grams)
  • 1 cup butter (240 grams)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 360 grams chocolate, coarsely chopped (I use half and half milk and dark chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
You will also need a lined or lightly buttered baking tray, a bowl of very cold water, a basting brush and a spatula 
Soft Ball stage, this is when the butter and sugar combines and becomes like lava, keep cooking and stirring so the edges don't burn (above)
Hard Crack stage, this is what you want (above)
  1. Combine sugar, butter and water in a heavy saucepan on the stove top over a medium heat until sugar dissolves, use the basting brush and a little water to brush down the edges of the pan to stop sugar crystals from clinging or forming (and ruining the texture of your candy), once all the sugar has dissolved you don't need to continue brushing 
  2. If you are using a candy thermometer put it in once all the sugar has dissolved
  3. Cook, stirring over a medium high heat until you get to hard crack stage (150˚C / 300˚F on a candy thermometer), the syrup dropped in cold water should form a hard crunchy ball with brittle threads, it took approximately 12 minutes over a medium high heat for me to get to this point, it should be thick and bubble slowly like the 'Bog of eternal stench' in the Labyrinth only this smells amazing (do not be tempted to put in your figures for a taste - it burns badly) 
  4. When you have reached hard crack stage, remove from heat and add vanilla
  5. Carefully pour onto a baking paper lined tray, tilting the tray on its sides to let the toffee stretch out quite thin (wear oven gloves as the tray heats up quickly)
  6. Cool for 2 minutes then sprinkle with the coarsely chopped chocolate, after approximately a minute the heat from the toffee will melt the chocolate, then using a spatula smooth the now melted chocolate evenly over the toffee, then sprinkle with nuts
  7. Allow to cool then place in the fridge for the chocolate to completely solidify
  8. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container in the fridge (in Australian summer or the chocolate will melt; or if you live somewhere very humid as the toffee will melt) until ready to give or eat!
Hot toffee ready to be sprinkled with chocolate

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