Something has turned ugly in Alaska. It’s called “the weather.” More specifically, winter has arrived. As I write this it is snowing and the wind is starting to howl. It’s gotten cold, gray, and dreary. The sun will essentially refuse to shine for several months now as we march toward those December and January days when you never see the sun peek over the mountaintops in our increasingly short “daylight” hours. Believe me, those awe-inspiring travel photos of Alaska, with the sun shining off the fresh-fallen snow are not shot in November or December.
That being said, it’s officially time to get back into the kitchen to start creating those calorie-laden treats that inspire happiness when sunshine and warmth can’t be found. Yes, my friends, the holiday baking season has officially begun. And what better way to kick it off than with an indulgent candy that takes minutes to make and will have people talking for days. Talking, that is, when they aren’t eating.
Today, we make English Toffee. But not just English Toffee (as if that isn’t enough), but English Toffee enrobed in rich chocolate and studded with toasted almonds. And remember, almonds and chocolate are good for you, so this is practically health food.
If you haven’t made candy before, this is a good recipe to start off with because it is simple, straight-forward, and doesn’t have a lot of the technical tricks or involved processes other candies require.
Today, we will toast and chop almonds (or just buy slivered almonds and toast them, cutting out the chopping step), make a syrup, then pour syrup over nuts. Then sprinkle some chocolate (I like to use chips – again no chopping), smooth it out, and sprinkle some more nuts. Easy stuff really.
Before we get started, lets go over a few simple tips that help when doing any kind of candy making.
- Read the recipe throughouly before you start.
- Gather all your ingredients and have any pans or other tools prepped before you start.
- Make sure your thermometer is accurate. If you aren’t sure, boil water and test the temperature with your candy thermometer. It should read 212 at sea level.
- You do have a candy thermometer, right? If not, STOP, go to the store, and get one. You can pick up the glass variety in most grocery stores for a few dollars. I know this because I’m one of those people who routinely needs a candy thermometer in the middle of the night and has to go sculking around our local stores to find one.
- Be careful dealing with hot syrups. This will be at 300 degrees F. Pouring this on you will result in a very bad day. A good precaution is to have a large bowl of iced water handy. If you spill syrup on your hand, plunge it immediately into the water to stop the burn.
- The best way to clean a caramelized pan is to fill it with hot water and let the syrup dissolve over several minutes.
- Every once in a while, candy doesn’t turn out as you planned. It happens. It could be too dry or too humid. The sugar could crystalize (if you stir it too much this is likely).
English Toffee with Chocolate and Almonds
- 3 cups (12 oz) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between ‘fine’ and ‘coarse’ (or just buy slivered almonds and avoid the almond chopping.)
- ¼ cup water
- 1 pound (4 sticks, 16 oz) butter. Do not substitute ANYTHING here. Only butter is butter and only butter will work.
- A large pinch of salt
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 7 ½ ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 ½ cups chocolate chips (I like the chips because who needs to chop chocolate right now…we need candy!)
- optional: Roasted cocoa nibs and fleur de sel or kosher salt to sprinkle on top.
- Dry-toast the nuts on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Start checking at 5, and shake the pan to turn the nuts. (No matter how long I tell you this might take, your oven is different than every other oven on the planet, and the nuts you are using are unique agricultural products with an unpredictable amount of moisture. In other words, this will take as along as it takes, so be watchful.) Let the nuts cool slightly.
- Lightly oil a large home baking sheet (often referred to as a half-sheet – approx.. 13x18x1) with an unflavored vegetable oil. If you have a silicone baking mat, go ahead and use it to line the pan, then oil the pan sides. Alternately, line the entire pan (sides too) in parchment paper, then oil the paper.
- Sprinkle half the nuts into the baking sheet.
- In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible (wooden spoons are great here, but again, as little stirring as possible), until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.
- Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
- Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it. If you need to spread the syrup, try lightly oiling your spatula first so the sticky stuff doesn’t stick to your stuff.))
- Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer with your spatula.
- If you are using, sprinkle the cocoa nibs or flakey salt lightly over the chocolate.
- Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press in to the chocolate with your hands or a spatula.
- Cool completely. This will take a while on the counter. I like to let it cool down for a half hour, then place in the freezer to finish.
- When completely cool and the chocolate has set, cut up with a heavy knife or break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container for up to ten days, but it won’t last that long. (And if you decide to cut instead of break, you are likely to get a number of small shards and crumbles as well as your large pieces. Save these for ice cream topping.)