'Tis the season for baking.
I'm not good at baking.
However, come Christmas, there are two treats I make annually. One of them requires zero baking, but is actually a pretty sophisticated-seeming treat.
I'm talking about English toffee.
This was my maternal grandma's go-to confection. Every year, she'd bring it to our house, displayed in beautiful crystal bowls. She'd tell me, "I want to make these with you next year, Molly Doll." She even gave me a candy thermometer for Christmas.
I was in junior high. I wasn't really interested in making toffee with my 85-year-old grandma. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED her SO much, but I was busy trying to figure out how to replicate cute outfits from the Delia's catalogue so boys would like me.
So of course, my grandma died a few years later, before I ever got around to learning her toffee method or recipe. My heart still hurts when I think about that.
But then something magical happened.
About ten years ago, my paternal grandma mentioned she always loved the English toffee my other grandma made for Christmas. It was her favorite. She missed it.
I decided to make it for her.
Of course, I had no recipe. I googled the crap out of toffee and stumbled upon Cooking for Engineer's simple, practical method. I followed the instructions and though my first batch wasn't perfect, I was shocked at the how easy it was!
Over the years, I've made a few tweaks so it's more like how I remember my grandma's.
Every year, it would take me a few attempts to really nail a batch. My best batch went to Grandma, and the rest went to my friends and family.
I'm always nervous about sharing recipes here because A) what if yours doesn't turn out because I sucked at explaining it and B) I'm never quite confident enough in my skills. However, this recipe? I've made it dozens of times and have effed it up so many times that I really have it dialed in.
Grandma Stromberg's English Toffee
Active time: 30 minutes
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 t water
1/8 t salt, plus a little extra for sprinkling at the end
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup roasted and salted almonds, coarsely chopped
Medium sautee pan (high sides necessary-- this stuff expands as it cooks!), spatula, candy or instant read thermometer, baking sheet, parchment paper.
In a medium sautee pan with high sides, melt butter on low (temperature is important here-- too hot and your butter and sugar will separate). Once the butter begins to melt, add the sugar, water and salt. Mix constantly until everything is incorporated, which should take a few minutes.
Once the sugar and butter are one, turn the heat up to medium-high. The mixture will begin to bubble and nearly double in size. Continue stirring.
When the water boils off, the mixture will collapse on itself, becoming creamy and thick (two words I hate). Continue stirring even though your arm hurts until the mixture reaches 300 degrees (hence, the thermometer). The mixture should be a beautiful toffee color. The key is removing the mixture from heat once it reaches 300 degrees but before it hits 320. I use this super nice Thermapen we got as a wedding gift. Works for candy, meat, everything.
Next, pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let sit for 60 seconds, then evenly distribute the chocolate chips on top. As the chips melt, spread them evenly across the toffee with a spatula, back of a spoon, whatever.
Next, evenly sprinkle a 1/4 t of salt over the top (optional, but I think this is the key to my toffee), then top with chopped almonds.
Let sit in the fridge (or outside if you live in Minnesota!) for a half hour. Then break into pieces with your chef's knife. Try some. Aren't you really impressed with yourself?!
Please note: You will lose a lot of almonds. Don't worry, that's totally normal. I like to take the tiny left-behind bits, store them in the freezer and put them on ice cream when I really need to eat my feelings.
If you have any issues/comments/questions, ask me in the comments. Happy to help.
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PS if you're into cooking, maybe you should pick up some of these things for yourself. Or someone else. Up to you.
PPS The only other recipe I've shared thus far on Hey Eleanor. I still think tomatoes are pretty gross.