Homemade toffee is a great introduction to candy-making. I’ve been making it for years using an old recipe that was passed around the neighborhood when I was a kid. I think every teenage girl on the block made it at least once. How’s that for doable?
If you’d like to try making candy, you shouldn’t be intimidated. The basic process is to cook sugar (usually mixed with other ingredients) until your candy thermometer says it is the right temperature. You then take a few final steps–which may be as simple as “pour out of the pan”, or may be a bit more complex. Since toffee is a “cook and pour” recipe, it is a great beginner candy.
When you make candy, the hotter you get your melted sugar, the crunchier the final product is. Caramel, which is chewy, goes to about 245 F, while toffee, which is crunchy, must reach 300F.
From my experience the biggest problems in candy making occur when you use a faulty candy thermometer and learn (too late) that it isn’t accurate. Cooked too long, toffee will burn; undercooked, it is chewy not crunchy. So, even if your thermometer worked the last time you used it, I recommend you test it since accuracy can change (ask me how I know this…). If your thermometer measures the temperature of boiling water as 212 F, all is well.
It is still possible to make toffee if you don’t own a candy thermometer (or own one that isn’t accurate, sigh). In that case, you use something called the coldwater test, to check or double check your stage (many professionals say they always second guess their thermometers). Just dip a spoon into the boiling liquid and drop a little into a cup of cold water. Then carefully (molten sugar is hot) mold the results. Candy syrup will move through various stages as it heats up. Initially it forms a soft ball, and later forms strands that break sharply (hard crack stage), which is where you want it for toffee. For more information, see this great explanation from the Science of Cooking.
All of this is probably more information than you actually need. As you may have guessed, my candy thermometer decided to fail right before Christmas this year so now I am extra cautious. But as a teen, I learned how to make it using just the directions below and have lots of fun making it over the decades, er, years. A neighborhood of teenage girls can’t be wrong…
- 1 c butter
- 1 c sugar (not organic, see note)
- 1 T water
- 1 t vanilla
- 1/2 t salt
- 1 c chocolate chips ( or 2 cups, depending on how thick you want the topping)
- 2 T sliced almonds, broken up
- Combine toffee ingredients in medium saucepan and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Continue cooking without stirring until brittle when dunked in water (300 F, hard crack stage).
- Let cool a few seconds (that is seconds not minutes) then pour out slowly on to buttered cookie sheet to make sure it isn’t spreading too fast. You want it hot enough to pour out, but not so hot it runs off the cookie sheet. Let cool.
- Melt chocolate in microwave or over double boiler and spread on top of toffee.
- Sprinkle with almonds while chocolate is still soft.
- Let cool, then break into pieces.
- I don’t recommend organic sugar for this recipe. I use it for everything except candy-making where the slight impurities can cause problems with crystallization. Trust me, I have had numerous failures.
- When making candy, make sure your pan is deep enough. Candy may boil up higher than you expect--and do it quite rapidly--and boiled over candy is no fun (though this recipe isn't as bad as many for this).