Friday, April 06, 2012

Coffee Toffee

Coffee Toffee

I decided at the beginning of the year (call it a resolution if you must) that I wanted to learn how to make candy. Partly because it is a dying art, my mother-in-law is one of the last few of a generation that knows how to make candy; and, partly because candy making scares me and, well, there are bigger things to fear in life. :)

The first candy type thing I ever made was a caramel base for an apple and nut tart. This was how I learned the importance of not using a rubber spatula whilst making hot molten sugar. One minute I was stirring along and the next minute I was holding just the handle, the rubber having disintegrated into my Thanksgiving dessert. I was undaunted and headed back into the kitchen the next morning with complete zen calmness and confidence that it would turn out, and it did.

The next thing I tried was marshmallows, and while I am not sure those were worth the effort, they were also a success. I moved on to hot fudge and other dessert sauces and I was all good and proud of myself. Candy Schmandy, I got this all licked.

However, there was this idea knocking around in my head that because I had never made any type of candy that required cooking to a certain and exact temperature, I hadn't really accomplished anything. Instead of heading to therapy, I headed back into the kitchen armed with a candy thermometer and the candy knowledge I had researched about such fiddly terms like "soft ball" and "hard crack" and phrases like "submerge tip of thermometer without touching the bottom" (what?!) and when to stir and when not to stir.

The first recipe I tried was this amazing Coffee Toffee from Smitten Kitchen. I dumped all the ingredients right in, gave it a stir, and clipped on the thermometer. Voila! Candy in the making. Then I started to get nervous. Maybe I don't have a good enough thermometer? Why does it smell so burnt? It's been boiling a long time, why hasn't it reached 250 yet!? This was when I decided that a beer reinforcement (for me, not the candy) and an attitude adjustment was in order.

Smeared (with beer reinforcement)
Try to ignore that beer bottle back there and just look at the yummy candy.

I firmly believe that candy can smell your fear. So, I casually sipped my beer while watching the thermometer and tried to project a light-hearted I-ain't-scared-of-you vibe through the air. When it reached 250', I stirred until it got to 300'.

I poured it into my prepared pan, spread it out a little, coated it in chocolate and nuts then checked on it every five minutes like a nervous first-time mother while it cooled and you know what? It turned out great. The coffee is the perfect balance to the rich toffee and I don't have to sell you on the addition of chocolate or nuts to anything, do I?

Coffee Toffee
very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons molasses (Deb says you can swap corn syrup or honey but I wholeheartedly agree with her that molasses and coffee is a winning combination)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped almonds (toasted first, then cooled)

Butter, or line with parchment, a 9 x 13 sheet pan. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine butter, both sugars, molasses, salt, and espresso powder. Stir together, then clip your thermometer onto the pot submerging the tip but not touching the bottom. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reaches 250'F, then stir constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk until the temperature reaches 300'F.

Remove candy thermometer and pour onto your prepared baking sheet. You can spread the toffee out with an offset spatula but I found that tilting the pan gently did the trick. You are going to break this into pieces anyway so don't stress about it being perfect or completely filling the pan. Sprinkle your chocolate chips on top and wait a few minutes for them to melt, then spread them evenly over the toffee. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle the almonds over the chocolate and wait for the whole thing to cool and harden (this took about an hour in my kitchen).

When completely cool, break the toffee into serving pieces and store in the refrigerator unless you live somewhere with a cool climate. This should store for at least two weeks in the fridge or freezer.

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