Do you remember that moment you crossed the vague threshold into adulthood and realized that you could eat candy whenever you wanted?
I loved that moment. I still do.
But the real epiphany for me came years later, when I learned how to actually make candy—to sprinkle some sugar into a warm pan and watch the bubbling mass morph into something otherworldly. My repertoire has never been too extensive: the occasional caramel sauce, nut brittle, butterscotch, and, the special treat that I allow myself during the winter holidays: Toffee.
Good toffee should have a slight crumble to it, unlike the jarring snap of a brittle. I also think that toffee needs both light and brown sugar, the former amplifying the butter, the latter contributing a deeper, slightly mysterious kind of sweetness. Feel free to experiment with the ratio; the following proportions reflect my personal tastes.
Candy making, if you're attentive, is safe. But make sure you have an oven mitt that will let you solidly grip the handle of your pan, and that you have a clear path from the stove to the counter.
It's also a good idea to have a candy thermometer, even an inexpensive "bulb" type you can secure to the side of your pan. Make toffee often enough and you'll begin to recognize doneness by sight: The molten sugar will start to behave almost like a batter, holding together in ribbon-like strands as you stir. For starters, however, keep an eye on the temperature.
8 ounces (two sticks) of unsalted butter, cubed
1 and 1/2 cups of sugar - I use 1 cup of white and 1/2 cup of brown
3 Tablespoons corn syrup
3 Tablespoons water
pinch of salt
6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate
Optional: 1/2 Cup toasted diced almonds
Equipment Note: Use a heavy-bottomed saucepan with straight sides and preferably a squared wooden spoon that can reach into the edges of the pan. If you don't have a wooden spatula, make sure your plastic utensil is heatproof.
1. Melt your butter in the pan over low heat and then stir in the water, corn syrup, and sugar.
2. Deploy your thermometer and increase the heat to medium. Stir constantly and bring the mixture to 300 degrees. (Incidentally, candy makers refer to this as the “hard crack” stage without a hint of irony). When the mixture is just short of 300, stir in the almonds if you choose to use them. The mixture should be a medium amber color—maybe a bit darker than light beer. There should be even bubbles all across the surface of the candy and the mixture should resist slightly as you stir, like a pudding.
3. At 300, carefully grip the pan and stir the mixture out onto a clean cookie sheet. Your pan will be very, very hot. Use a small offset spatula to spread the mixture to about 1/2 inch thickness.
4. Allow the mixture to cool thoroughly. Melt your chocolate and spread it on the cooled toffee. Cool completely. This mixture keeps at room temperature for about a week. Or so I've heard.