Monday, December 7, 2009

Merry Old England and English Toffee 101

I've been figuratively staring at a crack in the ceiling for the last couple of days, wondering what I wanted to highlight on my blog for the December season. Last week I thought about doing my favorite soups in the crock pot, but that seemed like a better fit for January. Then I pondered the idea of sharing only homemade gift ideas, but it didn't seem enticing enough for the whole month. The truth is, I've been longing to share Christmas Around the World again, just like last year. Not as last year's leftovers, but as a chance to revisit some of my favorite Christmas traditions, and maybe learn a little more about the way the world celebrates. Are you on board, dear readers? Shall we make it our yearly tradition, right here on Prudence Pennywise?
Last Christmas season, I was strolling the streets of London with my brothers and sisters. If you don't believe London is the most magical city in the world, just you try strolling around Marylebone Lane in December. You'll be lured into every toy shop with window displays like these. What I wouldn't give to take the charges to London at Christmas time.Preferably while they are still little enough to peer longingly into shop windows.
Speaking of peering longingly into shop windows, there are enticements for grown-ups too. Especially greedy grown-ups, like me.
Even if you don't go in the shops, the giant snowmen suspended from the roofs would make even Scrooge feel downright perky.
Scrooge is perfectly at home in London. Remember, the world's favorite Christmas story comes from England. Here's old Scrooge now.It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour."- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
The English are particularly apt to be jolly and share a bit of laughter and good cheer, among other things. The tradition of the Christmas card comes from England, as well as many of our favorite Christmas carols, like "The Holly and the Ivy," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "Good King Wenceslaus."
And the English are also responsible for my favorite homemade candy: English Toffee. It's buttery and slightly chewy, slightly crunchy with an incomparable caramely flavor. My favorite toffee is studded with nuts and slicked with chocolate. I'm sharing step by step instructions today. With a little patience in the first couple of steps, you'll be churning out toffee like an old English pro in no time. Make a little extra, and in the style of English, share some good humor, cheer and toffee with your neighbors.
Happy Christmas!
You need three ingredients to make English Toffee: butter, sugar, and vanilla.
You can add nuts and chocolate, but it's not absolutely necessary.
Butter a piece of parchment paper or foil and use it to line a 9 inch baking dish. Set aside briefly. Select a heavy bottomed saucepan to insure even cooking. Butter the bottom and sides of the saucepan to discourage the formation of sugar crystals. Melt butter completely over low heat. Add water and sugar to middle of pan and stir patiently until sugar is completely dissolved. Turn heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until toffee reaches 285-290 degrees for high altitude, or 290 for low altitude. If you see any sugar crystals forming during the process, you can brush them down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.Now here's the deal: I never use a candy thermometer. When the toffee looks a medium caramel color, I stop cooking. My cooking contest friend and chocolate guru, Ruth Kendrick, wrote that the toffee will give a puff of smoke when it's ready. I've been using that as my guide also. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. You can also stir in nuts, but if I use them I usually scatter them into the prepared pan. Pour toffee into pan.Let your toffee cool for five minutes. At this point, if desired you can scatter some chopped chocolate or chocolate chips over the top. Let stand for a minute and smooth the top with a butter knife. You can sprinkle nuts over the top, if desired at this point also. Let cool completely. Break into pieces and serve.
Money Saving Tips: Save the pricey nuts for the top of the toffee where they'll have the added benefit of a beautiful presentation. Don't try to use margarine here-it won't work, but you don't need an expensive butter either. I've used Walmart, Albertsons, and Costco brands with good results.
English Toffee
Small Batch Cost: $3.50 with chocolate and nuts
1/2 cup butter (4 ounces, or one stick)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 or 3 ounces semisweet, dark, or milk chocolate
2-4 tablespoons sliced almonds, or other nuts
Lightly coat an 8 by 8 inch pan with cooking spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add sugar and water and stir constantly until butter is melted and sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy (about 10 minutes). If sugar granules stick to the side, wipe them down with a wet pastry brush. When sugar is completely dissolved, turn the heat up to medium and stir constantly until toffee becomes a medium caramel color. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour toffee into prepared pan. Wait 7 minutes. Sprinkle toffee with chocolate and let stand a few minutes. Smooth chocolate with spatula and sprinkle with nuts. Wait until chocolate cools to break into pieces.
Next Up:
Christmas in France and Sable Cookies

31 comments:

VeggieGirl said...

Fabulous tale and tutorial!! Oh and I totally just won that same Trader Joe's pound of chocolate at the store yesterday, haha :-D

Julie Harward said...

I LOVE ENGLISH TOFFEE, IT'S ONE OF MY FAV. THINGS TO MAKE..ANY TIME! YOURS LOOKS SO GOOD, I JUST WANTED TO TAKE A BITE!!! Come say hi :D

Amanda said...

Oh those window displays, how I would love to go to London! I was actually born in Leicestershire, England, but have been in the states since I was 2. I still have family there and will visit some day. :)

I love your toffee, looks absolutely scrumptious!

Leslie said...

I love English Toffee. I love any kind of chocolate candy as long as it's crunchy.
We were so lucky to be in Europe at the beginning of the Christmas Season. Everything was so pretty, and I loved seeing London all lit up.
I posted my comment on the last post late, but The Friend is sharing Christmas around the World traditions, too.
I'm looking forward to what your going to share with all of us.

Leslie said...

I love English Toffee. I love any kind of chocolate candy as long as it's crunchy.
We were so lucky to be in Europe at the beginning of the Christmas Season. Everything was so pretty, and I loved seeing London all lit up.
I posted my comment on the last post late, but The Friend is sharing Christmas around the World traditions, too.
I'm looking forward to what your going to share with all of us.

Adrienne said...

Sounds good. I must admit, I've been looking forward to a really good Christmas sugar cookie recipe from you. I know you did some last year but seem to recall you said you had one that was better. If you make any this season, please chronicle it for posterity (and your greedy reader).

Prudy said...

Adrienne:
Your request is perfectly timed. The charges were just asking for a sugar cookie baking afternoon. The only question left is when. Coming soon for certain.

Michal said...

you taught me how to make toffee about 9 or 10 christmases ago and i've made it every year since. it has definitely become one of my december must haves. yum. and i'd love to visit london in december; it sounds wonderful.

gigi said...

My friend makes something like this and have always wanted the recipe, thanks for sharing yours. I'm all smiles :)

Peggy Clyde. said...

I love toffee and this one looks delicious and simple. Thanks.

Gem said...

Are you sure about a higher temperature for the toffee when at a high altitude? The rule I've always followed is subtract 2 degrees F for every 1,000 feet. I live near Boulder, CO and my caramel turns out hard as a brick if I don't subtract 10 degrees from my mom's recipe.

Prudy said...

Gem:
I realize that I didn't write that very clearly, so thanks. I went back and clarified. It should be 285-290 for high altitude, and at least 290 for low altitude. (Some cook books actually recommend up to 295 for low altitudes.) The higher altitude requires lower finished temps, just as you said. Sorry for any confusion. I'm in UT, your high altitude neighbor. T

Gem said...

Ah, it makes sense that I misread. Almost no one mentions high altitude temps unless they either live or know someone who lives up here :) Thanks for clarifying!

The Garden of Egan said...

YUM! Beautiful! Should I send you my address? JK

Looks fabulous!

Audra said...

IDID IT!!!! Every year I try to make toffee and always end up dumping all that butter, sugar and nuts out. But this time I followed your signs and didn't use a thermometer and it worked! Now I can't stop eating it and the chocolate isn't even set yet. Mine always separates into this mass of sugar and a lake of butter but just after that stage it came together and turned dark. It puffed some smoke and then I poured it in the pan. Thank you so much for a toffee recipe that doesn't need a candy thermometer!!! My hips don't thank you but I do. :)

Prudy said...

Gem, I blame myself. I rushed over that part and it was confusing. Good luck with your toffee!

Prudy said...

Hooray, Audra! I'm so glad it worked for you. I used to get toffee separation all the time, but then I learned the trick to very very carefully dissolving the sugar over low heat. That did the trick for me. It's so maddening to have to waste expensive ingredients. Three cheers for you!

Valerie C. said...

Hooray! I made it! Last year I made so many dang batches and it separated every time! I even bought the expensive butter and everything! I made your recipe today and it worked! Thanks

Prudy said...

Yes, Audra! Hooray, another success!

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