Sunday, December 20, 2009
Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee
Last week I mentioned some shortbread cookies I had baked for Secret Baker. Secret Baker is the collaborative idea of three fabulous baker/bloggers, Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker, Margaret (aka Tealady) of Tea and Scones, and Tracey of Tracey’s Culinary Adventures. They decided that since we all see and hear about what goes on in each others' kitchens, it was time we actually got to try some of the concoctions. Much like Secret Santa, you are randomly assigned someone to bake for and in turn, a mystery box of baked goods will arrive on your doorstep. Awesome, right? Sarah hosted the first round and there is a write-up about it here on her blog, and Margaret hosted this month and I’m sure she’ll have a round-up on her blog soon. The theme for this round was Christmas cookies. I did make shortbread and gingersnaps, but I thought it would be fun to make a candy as well.
Not long ago, the Sweet Melissa baking group made toffee. The recipe in the Sweet Melissa book gave me, as well as many of the Sweet Melissa bakers, a number of difficulties; I attempted three batches before I concocted one worth eating. It was yummy, though, and I knew I wanted to make more toffee this holiday season. Lucky for me, one of my fellow bakers, Joy of Hot Oven, Warm Heart, posted a different recipe the week the group made toffee, after burning a batch of the Sweet Melissa toffee herself. The recipe she used was David Lebovitz's , which can be found here on his site. I definitely recommend checking out his post, as it has a lot of tips on candy-making.
There were a couple things I did differently this time. David’s recipe did not specify how hot the stove should be, so I channeled my best caramel-making experiences and left it on medium. I figured I would rather have it be slow and steady than risk burnt candy again. Also, after always using the inexpensive, easily shatterable, and prone to fogging up so much you can’t read the temperature candy thermometers from the grocery store, I finally upgraded slightly with this one from Sur La Table and it seems good so far. The Secret Baker participants list their allergies and aversions, and the person I was baking for, Kayte, of Grandma’s Kitchen Table, said that the guys in her house do not like nuts “in” things, just on top or bottom of, so I only used half the nuts in the recipe, on the chocolate part, since when I made toffee before they sort of sunk in.
Josh and I thought the toffee was excellent, and Kayte informed me the guys over at Grandma’s Kitchen Table loved it, too. I rate this recipe a 9 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, for an EDR of 3.6. A great last minute gift or snack to have around for the holidays! Oh, and above is a photo of the treats I received from my Secret Baker. The box was packed with a plethora of delicious goodies; there was no note, though, so the baker is still a secret to me!
Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee, recipe from David Lebovitz
2 cups (8 ounces) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between 'fine' and 'coarse'
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
a nice, big pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips
optional: Ground cocoa nibs and fleur de sel
Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil. Alternatively, use a 9”x9” square baking pan, line with a parchment paper sling (about 2 inches hanging over the sides) and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8”x 10" on the baking sheet or the entire 9”x9” baking pan. (Or for a less nutty toffee, skip the nuts on this layer.)
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, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. (The recipe did not specify what temperature the stove should be on, so I left it on medium heat for about 10 minutes, then nudged the dial up just a bit and it reached temperature.) 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 or pan. 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. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer with an offset spatula.
If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur des sel.
Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.
Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container for up to ten days.