Another holiday idea - Toffee with chocolate and nuts

I feel very excited stepping into the world of candy making.  I saw this recipe from one of my favorite websites, The Kitchn, and it sounded totally do-able.  As in, I think I can do this.  So with a little faith and preparation, I gave the recipe a try...and what do you know?  It worked! 
As I expected, there is a bit of drama in making toffee.  Expect some spattering butter and be prepared to contend with a very hot and bubbling pot of butter and sugar.  But it doesn't take very much time to put together (though you do have to wait for it to set) and the result is plentiful and very rewarding.  This may be as far as my candy-making adventure goes but I plan to come back to this recipe again and again, especially around the holiday time.  Pack some in cellophane bags or a jar and it makes a great gift.
If you like almond roca candy or heath bars, this one's for you.  The recipe makes over 2 pounds, perfect for sharing during the holiday season.



When I saw this recipe, I was drawn by how fairly easy it sounded.  You don't need a candy thermometer (I happen to have one so I finally put it to use though I really don't think it's necessary in this case).  You need a heavy-bottomed cast iron pot or skillet (reason it's also referred to as "skillet toffee") and wooden spoon for constant stirring.  The ingredients are simple.  We're talking butter and sugar to make the toffee.  This recipe makes a lot of toffee and uses a pound of butter (4 sticks) and 2 cups of sugar, along with a pinch of salt. 
Chocolate goes on top, as well as some chopped nuts of your choice.  The recipe calls for toasted blanched almonds, which is very nice and brings that whole almond roca taste to the table.  I normally love almonds in chocolates and sweets but I went with toasted walnuts this time.  Our favorite Italian restaurant near our house serves a toffee covered in chocolate and walnuts that I just love so I was trying to replicate it.  Whatever you decide to use, toast 3/4 cup of nuts (in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes) and chop them in advance.  Of course, you could opt to skip the nuts altogether if you choose.  Also, finely chop 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and set aside.
I recommend making this toffee the night before and when there aren't children running under foot.  Once you start making the toffee, your attention needs to be completely focused on stirring that hot bubbling pot or skillet so I really recommend prepping well in advance and having everything you'll need ready and near you.  That means first preparing a standard baking sheet (roughly 10" x 15" but a little larger is fine and gives the toffee more room to spread; I actually prefer toffee a bit on the thin side) by buttering the bottom and sides and lining the whole thing with parchment paper.  When the toffee is done, it gets poured onto the sheet to cool and set. 

You also want to set aside, near the pan, a pastry brush along with bowl of water.  This will be used to clean the sides of the pan occasionally while cooking the toffee.  I think this is done to prevent the toffee from being too grainy otherwise.  An offset spatula is also handy if you have it to spread the chocolate.  If not, a rubber spatula also works. 

Start by carefully putting the butter into your pot over medium high heat. As it begins to melt, add the sugar and salt.
It's very important to stir constantly and rapidly with a wooden spoon throughout this whole process.  Things are relatively calm at first.
But as the butter and sugar cooks and heats up, things get exciting.  It will bubble up.  Keep stirring constantly and fairly quickly.  Use that wet pastry brush to occasionally clean the sides of the pan and keep stirring.
Patience is key.  We want to cook, stirring and stirring, until the mixture turns a deep golden brown color.  I lost track of time after a while but it takes about 15 minutes or so to get there.  You'll see the mixture thicken and pull away from the sides of the pot.  Be careful not to burn it but do wait til it reaches dark golden in color.  If you want to be more scientific, it should reach 300 to 310 degrees (I'd play it safe and stay closer to 300) on a candy thermometer, or the "hard-crack" stage.  I thought having a candy thermometer would give me a leg up on this but to be honest, it didn't.  I kept knocking my thermometer off the pot so I just removed it after a while.  And while I tried to check the temperature when I thought the color was right, the mixture really wasn't deep enough to get a good, quick measurement.
Be very careful since everything is very hot.  Use your oven mitts and take the mixture off the heat.  Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  This deepens the color further.
Pour the hot mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.  I move the sheet around a bit to evenly distribute as much as possible. 
Allow the mixture to cool for 4-5 minutes and then sprinkle on the chopped chocolate. 
I was afraid the chocolate wouldn't melt but it did.  Allow it to sit a couple of minutes and then use a spatula to spread the chocolate out evenly.
Sprinkle on the chopped nuts and use your fingers to press them into the chocolate a bit.
This is where it's helpful if you're doing this at night because now we let the toffee sit at least 6 hours so it completely sets and can be broken into pieces.  (Since the weather is so cool, it doesn't need to be refrigerated.  If you're making this in warm weather, refrigeration might be necessary but that makes gift-giving difficult if you have to worry about the chocolate melting during transport.) 

The next morning (you can tell it's morning given the lighting!)...here's what you find...
The toffee is set, ready for you to break into whatever size pieces you prefer.  It's delicious on its own or chop some up and serve with some ice-cream!
Let me warn you that it is very easy to munch and munch on these as you break them up. 
I highly recommend bagging some up quickly to share among friends.  This recipe makes a lot of toffee!


Recipe:

Toffee with chocolate and nuts
From The Kitchn

- Makes about 2 1/4 pounds, or a half sheet pan, of toffee -

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely
3/4 cups toasted walnuts, blanched almonds, or other nut, chopped

Butter the bottom and sides of a standard half-sheet pan (roughly 10"x15") and line it with parchment paper (bottom and sides).

In a large cast iron skillet or pan, melt butter over medium high heat.  As the butter melts, stir in the sugar and salt.  Stir constantly and rapidly with a wooden spoon.  Clean the sides of the pan occasionally using a wet pastry brush. 

As you cook, the mixture will bubble and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cook mixture (constantly stirring) until it turns a dark golden brown.  This process takes about 15 minutes or so.  Carefully (the mixture is very hot) remove pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Move the sheet around a bit to evenly distribute the mixture.  Let sit for 4-5 minutes to cool slightly.  Sprinkle chocolate over the top.  When the chocolate looks glossy after a few minutes, spread it evenly with a spatula.  Sprinkle nuts on next, using your fingers to gently press them into the chocolate.

Allow the toffee to set by cooling completely, at least 6 hours.  In cool/cold weather, it is not necessary to refrigerate the toffee.  Once the toffee is set, break into desired pieces.


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