Growing up I loved Heath bars. We most frequently enjoyed them on our birthday when Mom would make a deliciously simple frosting of freshly whipped cream, chocolate syrup, vanilla, and chopped bits of those yummy toffee bars which she would smother between the layers and on the outside of a sliced angel food cake. If memory serves me we kept the cake in the freezer until it was time to light the candles and sing “Happy Birthday”. The cake never really froze solid, but rather just kept the candy laden whipped topping from sliding off. The recipe came from a friend of my mother’s late sister, Berta. Although not overly fussy, the cake was divine and became a tradition in our family – I even think my 50-something year old brother still requests this one for his birthday, even today. Old habits die hard.
I remember the first time I ever tasted homemade English toffee. It was shortly after I graduated from college at a holiday party at my first “real” job. I was a social worker helping birthmothers make adoption plans at a private adoption agency when I received a gift of homemade milk chocolate almond toffee from a co-worker – I was blown away. It was a far cry from a Heath bar. It was crunchy yet melty, with toasted sliced almonds stuck into the chocolate coating. I insisted upon the recipe, which my friend quickly shared, and I think I’ve made it every Christmas since then. I’ve tweaked it a bit, swapping out her mild mannered Hershey bar for a good quality bittersweet chocolate, adding a pinch of sea salt, a touch of dark rum (which could certainly be omitted) in lieu of some of the water and opting to add in some brown sugar along with the white that she called for in her recipe.
If you haven’t made candy before, it can seem a little intimidating – a required candy thermometer clipped to the edge of a pan of bubbling sugar – what if I burn it? Or worse yet, I get burned?
I promise it’s not as hard as it seems. Your effort (and courage) will be paid back in moans of delight once your friends taste the crispy, caramely, nutty goodness with the obligatory robe of chocolate (bittersweet, if you please).
As I write this post I am reminded of the small tub of leftover almond toffee I made before Christmas that sits in the back of my fridge, almost forgotten. After making 8 batches of this recipe before the holidays for gifts, parties, and to enjoy ourselves, my cravings for it began to dwindle. Until now, when I’m reminded I can bring it new life in the aforementioned, “Frozen Angel Dessert”.
While this Salted English Toffee is delicious as a holiday treat in December, keep in mind Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it would make a great gift for your “someone special”, the kid’s teachers, or that babysitter that’s so sweet to babysit on Valentine’s Day. Oh heck, just sprinkle some on a big bowl of coffee ice cream with hot fudge, because you’re worth it!
- ½ pound butter
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup dark rum (or substitute with another ½ cup water)
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 cups whole or sliced almonds, divided
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into small chunks
- fleur de sel (optional for sprinkling)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Place 2 cups almonds on a sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until you can smell their nutty aroma. Remove from oven to cool. Remove 1 cup of almonds from pan, coarsely chop, and reserve for use inside the hot toffee mixture. Remove remaining 1 cup nuts from pan to finely chop with either a knife or a food processor. These almond bits will be sprinkled onto the melted chocolate coating on the toffee.
- Prepare a sheet pan by lining with either heavy duty foil or parchment paper. Set aside.
- Place butter into a large heavy bottomed saucepan and melt on medium low heat. Add sugar, brown sugar, water, rum, and salt stirring to combine.
- Place a candy thermometer into the pot, making certain the bottom of the thermometer bulb does not touch the pan bottom as well as assuring the bulb is immersed in the butter/sugar mixture to accurately calculate the temperature.
- Heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. After the sugar has dissolved, stir occasionally until the mixture begins to boil, at which time you must stop stirring. As the mixture boils, and begins to darken in color, wipe a water dampened pastry brush around the inside of the pot a few times to discourage the formation of sugar crystals, which can ruin a good batch of toffee.
- When the temperature reaches 270 degrees fahrenheit, add 1 cup coarsely chopped almonds. Continue cooking, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 295 degrees. Remove the pan from the heat and very gently and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared sheet pan. Do not scrape the remaining mixture at the bottom of the saucepan onto the sheet pan. Smooth the toffee out with an offset spatula and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the chopped chocolate onto the hot toffee, allowing it to melt for 5 minutes before spreading it evenly. Immediately sprinkle the finely chopped almonds on top of the melted chocolate. Shake or tap the pan gently to encourage the nuts to settle into the chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator to allow the toffee to set up. After 30 minutes, remove from the refrigerator and break into shards.
- Stores well at room temperature but refrigeration is recommended for longer storage times.
I’ve shared this recipe on the gluten free recipe round up Allergy Free Thursdays. Check it out…