Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes sharing green soup, cajoling recipes from athletes and studying up on food holidays.
There’s something addictive about that moment when you hand someone a homemade treat and their face lights up like you’ve just given them a hug. It turns baking into therapy, food into an olive branch, and those you share it with into a family.
I’ve experienced that joy for many years, by virtue of being the delivery girl every winter. I may have switched from wearing hair bows and Christmas dresses to newsboy caps and tall boots, but that feeling stays the same, and I always come bearing gifts.
Ever since I can remember, December is when my mother takes to the kitchen like a magician and begins to turn out hand-crafted happiness. The aroma of sweet cakes baking in the oven or candy bubbling hot in a pot on the stove greets me at the end of each day. The sugary sensation alone is enough to make you swoon, especially on a bitterly cold day.
But one bite of pound cake, English toffee, pralines, baklava or sugared pecans and you know that this didn’t come from the store. Yet again, my mom has a way of making you feel as though she has baked all of the love in her heart into each treat. When you taste it, you know she made it with you in mind.
Opening a wax paper-lined decorative tin and popping a piece of chocolate and pecan-coated crunchy toffee into your mouth is bliss. I know this for myself, but I’ve heard it from others. Over the years, the gifts have gone out to countless friends, family members, teachers, co-workers, customers and colleagues. My dad and I the proud delivery folks for my mother’s creations, soaking up the good karma vibes wherever our dispensing takes us.
Every reaction just makes my day, and I collect the compliments to take home and share with my mom. It’s witnessing the excited expressions on my friend’s faces as they recognize the telltale shopping bags bulging with tins. Other times, it’s handing out that extra tin I always carry “just in case” when I see someone, perhaps an acquaintance, who seems down or unhappy and watching their face transform into a beaming smile.
One year on “delivery day,” an ice storm hit our north Georgia town and knocked out the power at my high school. Mr. Friedman, my English teacher (and oracle), was without a lunch, but he feasted on the treats all day. Although he had a little bit of a sugar buzz, I’ll never forget the utter contentment on his face as he sat munching toffee and pound cake in between and during classes, a Bob Dylan-esque cap sitting jauntily on his head. It is, somehow, a perfect memory.
My mother has been making people feel this way for at least 25 years. And luckily, she has taught me the same recipes, so I can spread a similar joy.
The woman has mastered pralines and sugared pecans, finicky candies that can so easily set up like cement without an intrepid hand to control it. And a few years ago, she decided to take on a new challenge: English toffee.
Now when I say challenge, I mean this in relation to a woman who is fearless in the kitchen. At 6 years old, she was standing on a kitchen chair over the stove and trying to make candy with half of what she needed. If she had three of the required ingredients, she was “going for it.” No amount of failure deterred her, and to this day, I’ve never seen anyone so tenacious.
These days, my mom churns out batches of her own recipe for English toffee without a second thought. So when I tell you not to fear making toffee, or any candy, it comes with the reassurance and tips provided by “the magician.” Don’t let the list of instructions intimidate you - it’s to be sure you’ve got all you need to know! Make it one time and you’ll feel like a pro, and an excellent gift giver.
Screw your courage to the sticking place and take up the challenge to defy expectations of sub-par gifts or gift cards with delightful homemade treats.
Got questions before or after you make it? Let us know in the comments below, and Mama Strickland will be your candy guru.
English toffee recipe
Makes almost 3 1/2 pounds
-1/2 cup water
-2 teaspoons of butter, melted, to brush foil
-2 cups sugar
-2 mounded tablespoons light corn syrup (this makes the texture less like peanut brittle)
-1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
-3 cups chopped pecans
-12 ounces milk chocolate chips
-6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
-1 pound of unsalted butter, or 1 pound of lightly salted butter if opting out of the salt
Tools to make it easier on yourself:
-Heavy-bottomed medium saucepan
-Two 1/4-inch 15" x 20" plywood boards
-Wide heavy-duty aluminum foil
-Tear off 23" in length of 18" wide heavy-duty aluminum foil and brush the matte, non-shiny side with butter. Fold up 2-1/2" on each end and 2 -1/2" on each long side, forming a makeshift pan. This should leave you with a 13" x 18" surface on which to pour the hot toffee. This fits perfectly on the plywood with some room around the edges. This will function as your “pan” for the toffee. An actual pan keeps in the heat, which doesn’t allow the toffee to set up as quickly. The board will also keep the hot candy from scorching your work surface.
-Measure out the water and add corn syrup, stirring the two together.
-Pour this mixture into a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add sugar and butter and clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan before it gets hot. Turn on the heat to medium high, stirring constantly.
-While this is cooking - it should take a while to reach 310 degrees Fahrenheit - put water in the bottom component of the double boiler and turn it on low. Pour your chocolate chips into the top component and melt chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, turn it off and it’s ready to spread on the toffee
-Chop pecans and have them ready to sprinkle on the finished toffee.
-The candy is going to start bubbling and thickening, and eventually turn a caramel color, until it reaches 310 degrees (the “hard crack stage” in candy making).
-When it reaches that temperature, remove from heat immediately.
-Carefully pour candy onto foil evenly. If need be, you can grip the plywood base to tilt it in the right direction if it doesn’t spread.
-If you use these exact measurements, wait 4-5 minutes before cutting the toffee. If you use a smaller space, you will need more time for the candy to cool.
-Using a pizza cutter, (blunt is best; sharp will go through the foil, but if all you have is a sharp pizza cutter, use a light hand), run through the toffee length and width wise to create 1-1/2 inch squares. (If your pizza cutter doesn’t leave an impression, it’s still too warm and you might want to wait another minute before trying again). This will help the toffee to break later, rather than forming definite squares.
-After cutting, lift the top part of double boiler off and dry the bottom of it so it doesn’t drip onto the candy. Take a spatula and spread a thin layer of chocolate over the top of the toffee. You can use just enough to cover the surface, but thickness is up to personal preference.
-Then, liberally sprinkle the chopped pecans on top of the melted chocolate.
-Place an unbuttered sheet of foil on top of the toffee and tuck foil around edges. Place your second board of plywood on top and flip it over.
-After flipping, remove the top board and let sit for 1-2 minutes before you remove foil. If you peel the foil and it starts to stick, wait another minute and it should come off.
-Once you peel off the foil, repeat the chocolate and nut process.
-Cover this with another piece of foil and the second plywood board, and flip it over again.
-Remove the top piece of foil and retaining the bottom piece of foil, slide it off of the board and onto a wire cooling rack.
-Sit the wire rack in coolest room of your house. The toffee needs to cool for at least a few hours.
-After it is cool, break the toffee into pieces. It usually breaks where pizza cutter went through. If it isn’t breaking into even pieces, it doesn’t matter.
-Store the toffee in wax-paper lined tins at room temperature and it will keep for weeks.
Made this. Turned out great! I did make some tweaks.
– I used cardboard instead of plywood, because I didn't want to buy plywood just for a recipe.
– I used maple syrup instead of corn syrup because I'm a filthy hippy.
– I used almonds instead of pecans, because I've already got one pecan-heavy sweet this year for Christmas, and I didn't want two.
– I used crushed candycanes on 1/3rd of the toffee (the other 2/3rds were the nuts). ZOMG delicious.
– I didn't have a candy thermometer, so I used my meat thermometer, looped the wire through the handle of my saucepot, and stuck it in there while keeping a close eye on the temp readout.
I would like to note that you need a medium saucepan on the larger end. The mixture will foam up to nearly double its volume at some point during the process (around 220 degrees) and if your saucepan isn't big enough you'll be in a world of trouble. As it is, I had to transfer my toffee to another pot halfway through the cooking process.
Also, though the author didn't specify what type of spoon to use, I made sure I used a heat-safe silicone spatula. Rubber will melt, and I think a thin wooden spoon will work fine, but cleanup on wood is a bear; hence, the silicone in my case.
Great recipe! My husband and I love this!!
MARRY ME, ASHLEY!!!
The key is, once it starts to bubble, stop stirring it. If you stir it, it can cause it to crystallize and become gritty. Made a batch today, turned out perfect. Don't need a thermometer, you can just wait till it turns a deeper tan, and test with a glass of water. Just drop some of the mix into the water, wait for twenty seconds, and eat it. If its chewy, its not ready, if its crunchy, its done.
Awesome dude, thanks!
Thanks for the tip- turned out great!
You dont need the fancy plywood thing. Its a buncha hogwash. Just use a cookie sheet, line with tin foil. Pour into cookie sheet, dont need to spray it. Remove from foil once its set. Then you can brush with chocolate and nuts, i prefer walnuts.
I love cooking but cooking is something that you can experiment with. My grandmother taught me a lot of recipes and when I cook I love to add or take away from those recipes. I've never made toffee before but I'm sure it's somehting that can be tweeked, modified, and experimented with. Someone said they add flavored oil and other things. That's what I love, just experimenting. Maybe you can try other chocolate and short cuts, like melting the chocolate in the microwave.
Ashley, can I use Silpats instead of foil?
Anyone know if the temperature needs to be adjusted for high altitude? (8500ft,)
I like Skor better than Heath.
shush it right up
I love making toffee for Christmas gifts. I usually make up four batches; the standard recipe w/nut topping & 3 others.
For variation, I add oil flavorings to the chocolate. Peppermint (with crushed mints as toppings); orange (with a sprinkling of minced up candied oranges as a topping), and raspberry flavoring (with tiny gummy raspberries from the bulk candy section of our grocer, sprinkled on). It's a toffee sampler and everyone seems to enjoy it.
couldn't you just buy a Heath bar and save a couple hours?
Love toffee but this recipe is so time consuming – I'll just head out to The Chocolatier and buy it!!!!
Well sure you could, dear, but where's the joy in that? After a you've become comfortable making a few batches, it's sometimes fun to modify the recipe to satisfy yours or your family's tastes. That's how traditions are started.
Heath bars are my favorite grocery line treat, but I think that's like asking if you could just have a chips ahoy cookie instead of a warm, fresh from scratch cookie.
Amen to that, Heather!
one of those things you can smell as soon as you read the words
My toffee is better than Heath and I do love Heathbars. The recipe I use takes 4 sticks of butter, a cup of sugar, a splash of vanilla, a pinch of salt. Top temperature is 285 for my recipe. And I am fond of adding Kahlua or other flavors. Kahlua toffee is amazing!
oh my goodness, you taste anything in that candy besides butter?
Can you melt the chocolate in the microwave? Will that have any negative effect? I have not used a double boiler to melt chocolate since microwaves came out. Just curious . . .
I always use the microwave and have never had an issue. It's way more convenient, don't you agree?
Patricia – you can but must be careful. A powerful microwave on full power can burn and smoke the chips. I would recommend using 50% power but be sure to take it our and stir about every minute or so. This is much faster than the double boiler!
The toffee turned out wonderfully delicious! I used flexible cutting boards instead of plywood and lined a large rimmed cookie sheet instead of making the foil pan as another had suggested. I also simply put the chocolate chips on the warm toffee, after scoring, and spread it around once they melted. It was sinfully easy and is absolutely wonderful. It did take a long time to get the temp up though, I actually have a blister on my hand from stirring the thickened mixture for 20 minutes until the temp got high enough! This was my first attempt at making toffee, so I'm not sure if that is a typical cooking time or not?
I don't have a double boiler either, but you don't need one. Just set up a small metal mixing bowl on top of a pan filled about 1/2 way with water. The bottom of the bowl only needs to be barely immersed in the water below. On low heat, this will keep your chocolate from scorching.
A lot of posters are complaining about separation using this recipe. I've found that the recipe at cookingforengineers.com to be 100% successful if followed closely.
The big difference between the recipe above and that at cookingforengineers.com is that the CFE recipe calls for patiently and fully dissolving the sugar in the butter at low temp before turning the temp up. In my experience if you don't dissolve the sugar FULLY before upping the temp you will end up with a greasy (but still tasty) mess.
This stuff is ridiculously easy and amazingly good!
I used to try to make my Aunt's and it never came out like hers. I have been using a Paula Deen recipe since then, but I'm going to try this because I like the larger quantity. When you use corn syrup in a recipe like this, it helps prevent unwanted crystals. It's like having a safety net and makes the recipe almost foolproof as long as you reach the right temp in the right amount of time. Use a heavy pan, and make sure it has some extra space because the toffee will bubble up, and note the medium high flame.
Just finished making these are they are terrific!!!
It's cooling on the cooling rack as I type. Could that be it?! Stay tuned. So far, I'm banking on all my coworkers thinking I've toiled over a hot stove for hours and hours. This was easy as pie – maybe easier. Thanks for the thoughtful directions.
OK, this is all of the incentive I needed to walk away from the computer and into the kitchen. Toffee, here I come!!
Learn from my fail: If you're a novice, do not try to wing it or guess when the candy might be at the hard-crack stage of heating. It MUST reach the hard-crack indicator on your candy thermometer or you will have trays and trays of pliable not-quite-toffee goo. An expensive teachable moment that put me off baking.
You must use "Salted" butter, or it will separate towards the end. FYI
Not true. You just need to make sure that the sugar is fully dissolved. This is the trick, if you don't fully dissolve the sugar at low temp you will be left with some separation and extremely greasy toffee.
Good point. I use lightly salted butter but also throw in an extra pinch of salt. But I melt the butter on low heat, then add the sugar. I think energetic whisking is critical to get is mixed thoroughly before turning the heat up.
Yeah, I make toffee every year and have only had it separate twice. I'm convinced it has to do with melting the butter too quickly. You jjust need to stir it frequently over low heat. I just stir, no whisking. Once it is melted I just dump in the sugar and it dissolves pretty fast and then I go to medium high. The recipe on this page is a little unusual in that it uses pecans. The toffee recipe I use is a little more old fashioned and also calls for some almonds in the toffee itself, not just as a coating. I'm also not sure about the corn syrup in this recipe, but maybe without nuts in the toffee it is needed.
I read this article and thought the mom was me! I have been making a toffee candy recipe similar to this for 10+years. I love the ease of making this quick, decadent, "nom nom" candy and gifting it gives me joy. I was taught to "burn with confidence" and I have never used a candy thermometer. This is the one simple way I know the holidays are here...that sweet smell that lingers. Happy Holidays and I mean Happy Hannukkah!
Will it come out if I make it with margarine instead of butter? My father-in-law is lactose intolerant.
It will not be the same without butter – if you do use margarine, use the stick kind and do not use any type of "light" or "lite" versions.
I am also lactose intolerant and I do not have any problems with butter. Lactose is water soluble, and butter is made by separating the liquid from the fat in milk – so there is only a small amount left in the butter unless it is also fermented, producing cultured butter.
Really, your FIL should not be eating enough toffee in any one sitting to be negatively impacted by the lactose.
I have a MUCH easier recipe that I have made for 40 years (no joke). I use margarine ALL the time. Still have milk in the chocolate, but some people do eat the toffee without it. Not sure how I could get it emailed to you. If you have an idea, just let me know.
Have been making toffee at Christmas with my mom for years. Easier variations on this process: use slivered almonds, and "toast" them with the toffee as it's cooking. Once it reaches temperature, pour into a foil-lined pyrex baking dish (butter the foil as the above says). Drop semi-sweet choc chips all over the top and wait 2 mins. The heat of the toffee melts the chips. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate over the top. Once entirely cooled, lift foil out of the baking dish to pull the block of toffee out as one piece. Then break the toffee into uneven shards (a mark of good toffee in my opinion!). Much easier than the recipe above, and certainly as delicious!
Toffee means Christmas and happy baking (and eating) time with my daughter. I agree with the shortcuts, Stacy!
Agree with Stacy – fair warning, pecans are 3X as expenisve this year $14/lb instead of the usual $4/lb – go with almonds (or peanuts or cashews or macademias or no nuts at all). Slivered can be chopped and end with something that looks like the pictures – sliced are a different look, less work, and I think prettier. If you put the nuts into the pot with the sugar you'll get something more like chocolate covered brittle – also delicious, just different looking.
Skip the double boiler – put chips on immediately after scoring, there's a ton of heat to melt the chocoalte. You can still sprinkle both milk & semi-sweet if you like.
Good tip though to use a foil "pan"!
Use walnuts instead of pecans.
If you have an Aldi's near you, check there – still more than last year, but much less than the regular grocery.
Thanks for this recipe and the detailed instructions. I usually bake and gift a variety of cookies as gifts and I'm looking forward to adding this as one of my gifts as well this year!
Please stop turning nouns into verbs...'gifting'....sheesh!
It's part of the evolution of the English language. Su ck it up, Buttercup.
English is a generative language. You can verbify many nouns and nounify many verbs.
snizzle with my guizzles
with Ubonics, the world is my oyster-izzle
Don't go viral on us.
They're called gerunds, and they've been around for a long time. Stay in school, kids!
Never be annoyed with nouns being turned into verbs when somebody likes you enough to gift you with homemade toffee!
tr.v. gift·ed, gift·ing, gifts
1. To present something as a gift to.
2. To endow with.
I am endowed, magnificiently so... or as I am often referred to by the gentler gender
I always had problems with the Catholic Nuns and those damn rulers...Ouch.
I'm still afraid to use either farther or further...never could get it right, so I just avoided it altogether...and it's been 40 some years since I was in Catholic School. Other than that, it was an excellent education.
I wasn't sure about that usage myself, so I looked it up. It seems easy enough when worded like this:
"Farther" shows a relation to physical distance.
If you can replace the word farther with "more miles" then you have done it correctly.
-Our car drove farther than I thought it would on one tank of gas.
-I wanted to run farther, but I became too exhausted.
-Our house is farther away from the restaurant than yours.
"Further" relates to metaphorical distance or depth.
It is a time, degree, or quantity. It is also another way of saying "additional".
-The lawyer pounded his fist on the table saying, "And further more ... !"
-I asked that there be further discussion on the matter.
-I need to look further into the logistics of moving farther from my office building.
I think you had better caveat that statement, lest you will be tasked with a clarify later.
Oh shut up!!!!!
We call it "verbing" a noun. Just wait until we start "nouning" verbs!
Hah – there is a box of homemade toffee on our table here in the office that looks exactly like that!
I am very appreciative of the coworker that brings them in (hint hint)!
Mr. Problem says, "there is a box of homemade toffee on our table here in the office that looks exactly like that!"
Yum! My daughter has mastered this and I look forward to the gift each year.
This same recipe? If so, do you know how many recipes she had to make before getting it right? Thank you.
I tried a different recipe last year for the first time and it came out perfectly. Well, it was thicker than it should have been but nobody complained. I had people willing to break their teeth on the thick toffee because it was so good.
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.
Join 8,085 other followers