(insert your favorite nut here) toffee

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If, by some remote chance you happen to be my Aunt Kris, please stop reading now.  Every year about this time, TD and I wait in hungry anticipation for a package with a Santa Maria, CA postmark to arrive so that we can demolish the wrapping and dive into the tin of my Aunt Kris’  homemade almond toffee.  More than once TD and I have nearly come to physical blows over the last little crumbly bits stuck to the bottom of the bag (because really, what says holiday season more than boxing for caramelized sugar detritus).

After much begging, cajoling and general harassment from TD,  I’ve finally  figured out how to make it myself.  But, don’t tell my Aunt Kris because while I may have cracked the crackle code, I still prefer hers.

Since the original maker of this crunchy delight is my Aunt Kris and not yours (unless you are my brother), she probably doesn’t send you any.  So, I’ll show you how to make your own.  And, if your name is Kris, perhaps you can start a holiday tradition by sending it to your niece and her husband.

I’m not sure where I found the original recipe but was able to hunt-down a comparable one on Sunset magazine’s website.  Do not be afraid of the candy thermometer.  If you find the need for a thermometer daunting, think of it this way: they sell them in grocery stores.  If normal people weren’t meant to use them, they wouldn’t have them out right next to the bamboo skewers and disposable muffin tins.  Would they?

This recipe starts with a heavy saucepan, said thermometer, sugar, butter and water.  Put items two through four into item number one and turn on the burner to medium.

While the sugar is working on its chemistry, go ahead and toast up some of your favorite nuts.  This year I made separate batches with pecans and almonds.  When the nuts are toasted and cool to the touch, give them a rough chop.  You can do it by hand, but it’s very quick in a food processor or mini-prep.

Now it is time to sit back and watch the pot boil.

And boil.  While you are waiting, make sure your pan and nuts are at the ready (yeah, yeah, that’s what she said).

Once everything is nice and golden brown and the smell nearly drives you mad with its buttery goodness AND the thermometer reads 310, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped nuts using a wooden spoon.  At first, the caramel will be angry but quickly calm down.

Now, take a deep breath and carefully, pour out the caramely, nutty, super-hot liquid into your pan.

Before the next step, the toffee needs a bit of a cooling-off period.  In my case, this means it is time to clean the burner (there may or may have not been a tiny little fire caused but some stray sugar with one of the batches.  But, I’m not talking and you can’t prove anything).

The final step starts with what all good final steps should begin with: chocolate.

Give it a chop and then into a double boiler it goes to slowly melt.  Once your toffee is cool to the touch and your chocolate is melted, spread an even layer of the chocolate over the surface of the toffee.  An off-set spatula works well for the job.  The instructions in the recipe below say to refrigerate at this point but I don’t.  I like to let the chocolate cool at room temperature so that it doesn’t bloom and give me gray chocolate.

With the chocolate set, the  real fun begin as you get to break-up the toffee (I do it by hand but a little hammer could be fun too).  This recipe makes a generous batch–which is genius because I predict only about half of every batch ever gets to its intended destination.

The great thing  about this recipe is that it will last a good month if properly stored.  This means that you can make this well in advance of the holiday push.  Of course, this also means that you will have it around the house…which is probably why my dentist owns my soul.

Nut Toffee

Slightly adapted from Sunset Magazine

Yield: Makes 1 pan (10 by 15 in.); 40 pieces (serving size: one 2- by 2-in. square)

Ingredients

  • 2  cups  pecan halves
  • 3 1/2  cups  sugar
  • 1 1/2  cups  butter
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  tablespoon  vanilla extract
  • 12  ounces  bittersweet chocolate
  • 2  teaspoons  fleur de sel (see Notes) or coarse sea salt

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Put nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop roughly. Divide into 2 batches; chop 1 batch finely. Set both batches aside.

2. Put sugar, butter, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. When butter and sugar are melted, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden brown and measures 310° on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully stir in vanilla (mixture will bubble up) and finely chopped pecans. Pour into a 10- by 15-in. rimmed baking sheet. Let toffee cool until set, at least 30 minutes.

3. Chop chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Pour over toffee; with a knife or offset spatula, spread evenly. Sprinkle chocolate with roughly chopped pecans. Let sit 20 minutes, or until chocolate is cool but still a bit soft. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

4. To remove, gently twist pan to release toffee, then chop or break into chunks. Store in an airtight container.

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