By GAIL MIYASAKI
T’was the night before Christmas when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
-— Clement Clarke Moore, 1822
The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year!
Family and friends, both young and old, gather to celebrate what the joy and spirit of Christmas means.
Just look to the young children who share in this magical belief of one very special, jolly old gentleman, St. Nicholas, and his eight amazing flying reindeer delivering special gifts on Christmas Eve all around the globe.
Raise your hand if you happen to be one of those kids who left cookies out on a plate before getting tucked in bed, thinking that Santa may enjoy a snack. By the crack of dawn, only a few crumbs remained.
Chocolate goodies for holiday gift-giving and sharing at family gatherings come to mind. Who could possibly resist that first bite of an ooey, gooey delight snatched from the cooling rack?
King Arthur Baking Company’s recipe here for Dark Chocolate Buttercrunch by PJ Hamel caught my attention. “Layers of nuts and bittersweet chocolate surrounding silky, crisp toffee, for an ideal holiday indulgence” sounded divine. It truly is! After the first bite, you’ll be hooked.
Baking cookies has always been my forte! Yet, this unexpected candy challenge to try an updated version of English toffee intrigued. It reminded me of my family’s gifting of See’s Candy holiday milk chocolate almond toffee.
Impressive web stats show that this recipe has received 160 top reviews and 4.2 K shares. See https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/dark-chocolate-buttercrunch-recipe.
English toffee’s origins date back to the 19th century, likely in Wales, where it gained notoriety, on to Britain, then across to Europe as supplies of butter and imported sugar became plentiful.
Buttercrunch is an Americanized version of traditional English toffee that has no nuts, with a more creamy, crunchy texture.
To make toffee, basically butter, sugar and salt are heated until carmelized. As it reaches a specified temperature, it’s quickly removed from the heat and poured onto other ingredients. Timing is key for success, or failure. As the toffee gets poured, it will cool and harden.
MUST DO: prep ingredients and equipment, then follow instructions. Total time is about 15 minutes.
16 T unsalted butter (2 sticks)
½ tsp salt
1½ C granulated sugar
1 tsp espresso powder
3 T water
1 T light corn syrup
1 tsp baking soda
2 C diced, toasted pecans (1-8 oz Trader Joe’s bag is unsalted and dry toasted, simply chop finer)
2-2/3 C bittersweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli, Guittard; can try half mixture of bittersweet and semi-sweet)
1) In a large, light colored 3-quart saucepan, melt butter. Stir in salt, sugar, espresso powder, water, corn syrup. Bring to a boil gently over medium heat, without stirring, until mixture reaches hard-crack stage (300 degrees F on an instant-read candy or Thermapen thermometer. Comes off the heat a few degrees sooner). Syrup will bubble without seeming to change much, but with patience, all of a sudden it will darken, and at that point, take the temperature. This whole process should take 10-12 minutes. Be alert: too long on the heat and your syrup will burn.
2) While sugar is boiling, spread half of the nuts in an even, closely packed layer on a parchment-lined 9×13” pan. Top nuts layer with half of the chocolate chips. When syrup reaches 295 degrees F, immediately remove from the heat and stir in baking soda (as it foams up, use caution). Pour syrup quickly, evenly over nuts and chocolate. Top with remaining chocolate and let sit for 2-3 minutes, until it softens; spread chocolate with an offset spatula in an even layer and immediately sprinkle remaining nuts on top.
3) While candy is still slightly warm, pull it out of the pan, using a thin spatula to loosen it from the parchment. When completely cool, break into uneven chunks. Store candy in a tightly sealed container.
For easy gifting ideas, check out Amazon for cellophane bags in a variety of sizes. A 5×7” bag is workable for your homemade toffee, or cookies, too. Self-sealing bags save time and look professional, like store-bought. For a vintage appeal, use glass canning jars. Create your own gift tags, and tie with twine for a rustic touch.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.