SMS *recipe remix*: Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee 1

Do you ever wish life had a pause button? I might be overly influenced by my DVR, but I keep thinking how utterly advantageous a short intermission would be right now so I could have a chance to stop and catch my breath. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of sickness, stress, and strain, and unfortunately the preoccupation precluded my participation in quite a few weeks of baking and blogging. Some of the baking did take place- it is probably the only thing that has kept me sane throughout- and I even snapped a few photos, but I just couldn’t seem to pull together an accompanying post in time. I can’t wait to share the results in an SMS recipe rewind of sorts- most notably featuring my first ever bread pudding made from Julia Child’s homemade brioche. I even made both the recommended raspberry sauce and a bonus decadent caramel sauce for my mom (the berry-allergic). Coming soon to “Hot Oven, Warm Heart.” But for now, I’m so pleased to get back into the swing of things with today’s assignment, Melissa Murphy’s Butter Toffee Crunch. Sort of.

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Now maybe it was my faulty cheapo thermometer that sprung a leak, or the remnants of dear old Ida, who came barreling into town full force yesterday (I read that humidity/ moisture level in the air can negatively effect the candy making process), or maybe I made a irreparable error along the way (I am a novice at this after all), but the Butter Toffee Crunch was a colossal disaster. The one thing you want to avoid when making candy is the sugar crystallizing, and despite my careful adherence to the directions, that is precisely what happened. I knew as I was pouring the gloppy, bubbling caramel on the baking sheet that something went horribly awry, so I wasn’t too surprised to find a crumbly mess upon attempting the final step of breaking into pieces. The taste sadly solidified my fear that I now had 3 lbs of chocolate and nut covered brown sugar- cloyingly sweet and downright gritty. Now while I can’t pin point exactly which culprit was responsible, I’m a bit doubtful that the recipe would have been successful even if the stars were aligned. To me, the ratios seemed a bit off- especially when it came to the sugar- all 4¼ cups of it. Regardless of the toffee’s texture, the caramel layer was very thick (and I did use the largest rimmed sheet pan in my kitchen)- it was just way too much and made even a small piece overwhelming. The semisweet chocolate didn’t help matters, and without that bitter tang of dark chocolate, there was no contrast to balance the saccharine mixture underneath.

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By the time I realized that my afternoon of candy making was a flop, the sun had set, and I left my kitchen disappointed and demoralized (I know… I take these setbacks too personally… I’m working on it). As I laid in bed running through the steps over and over again in my head, and contemplating the overflowing container of no-good toffee on my counter that I didn’t have the heart to throw away, I hatched a plan for the next morning. I would not end my candy making career on a bad note- instead I would forge forward with a new recipe in hand, and give it another go. Luckily, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

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For toffee #2 I turned to a very reliable source when it comes to the sweets department: David Lebovitz. It just so happened he posted a remarkably similar recipe (same idea, but very different proportions) that I thought might just do the trick. Following his instructions to the T produced a batch of the most delightful homemade toffee I could ever imagine. I had a much better feeling pouring the gorgeous dark amber colored caramel over my toasted almonds, and knew almost immediately it was okay when I watched it set up in a hard, almost translucent layer mere seconds later. As I sprinkled my Ghiradelli bittersweet chips on top, spread them into a shining melty sheet of chocolatey goodness, and distributed the remaining toasted chopped almonds across the surface, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face. I didn’t say anything to my mom in fear of giving myself a kena-horah (Yiddish for jinxing), but I was hopeful that first bite would confirm my suspicion- this candy would not only be edible, it would be delicious.

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Both my parents proclaimed it far and away the winning candy, much improved from my initial attempt. A nice crunch yielded to a chewy treat with just the right amount sweetness and pronounced chocolate and almond flavors. The simple list of ingredients came together in perfect harmony, producing an indulgent delicacy with addictive properties. After offering pieces to both my mom and dad, I watch them each sneak another taste off the tray a few minutes later- always a good sign. Though reminiscent of the caramel matzoh crunch I make every year at Passover (I will surely be sharing that this Spring), the Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee is definitely a stand-out recipe in my repertoire that I will be calling upon for gift-giving this holiday season. Great to have on hand to serve surprise guests who pop up this time of year (you probably have everything you need to make it in your pantry), it is a wholesome, quality sweet that is sure to impress. If you’re looking for a dependable recipe to use as an introduction to candy making, take my advice, and give David’s a try. You won’t be sorry!

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Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee
from David Lebovitz

Ingredients:
2 cups (8 ounces) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between ‘fine’ and ‘coarse’
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
a nice, big pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

optional: Ground cocoa nibs and fleur de sel

Directions:
1. Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil.
2. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8″ x 10″ on the baking sheet.
3. In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300° F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.
4. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
5. Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it.)
6. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer.
7. If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur des sel. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.
8. Cool completely (you can pop it in the fridge if you’re impatient, like me!) and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container, for up to ten days.

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To offer a boost of confidence, here are a few tips and tricks I picked up through some research that should make the process a bit more foolproof and less intimidating:
• Before you begin, make sure to read the recipe thoroughly and gather all your ingredients so that they are ready to use- I measured mine out in advance (especially the baking soda and vanilla) so I could grab them at a moments notice when the syrup came up to temperature. I learned that the baking soda is what aids browning and gives the toffee a lighter texture, while the vanilla adds depth of flavor.
• Make sure your candy thermometer is accurate. If you’re unsure, a good trick is to bring a pot of water to a boil- it should read 212° F if you live at sea level. If you find it’s off a degree or two, simply adjust your recipe taking this into account. Also, the tip or bulb of the thermometer should rest above the bottom of the pan for a proper reading.
• Use a heavy bottomed saucepan so the candy will not scorch under high temperatures. In addition, it’s recommended to use a long handled wooden spoon (as opposed to metal), because the sugar crystals are less likely to stick to the wood.
• Take extra precaution when handling hot syrups- just to be safe, it’s handy to keep a bowl of ice water on the counter which you can plunge your hand into immediately to stop a burn if an accident occurs.
• Avoid overstirring- it can overwork the caramel and result in the dreaded crystallization.
• For easy clean up- after the pan cools, fill it with water and bring to a boil. Let stand until the syrup melts away.
• Buttercrunch Toffee will keep for about 7-10 days- store it in an airtight container to prevent softening.
• Most importantly, please keep in mind that every once in a while, candy doesn’t work. It may be too humid, or the sugar decides to crystallize (as in my case), or it’s just not your day. Try your best not to get discouraged; according to David, it happens even to seasoned professionals.
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I can’t wait to visit all my fellow SMSers’ sites to find out if they had better luck with Melissa’s Butter Toffee Crunch (the recipe’s over at “Kait’s Plate”), and catch up with everyone through our comments- I’ve really missed all my lovely baking ladies! Check out the blogroll to see how each fared. Thanks Kait for your fun selection, and for pushing me into uncharted culinary territory!

Joy Heart 2

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21 responses

  1. Welcome back Joy! Too bad Melissa’s recipe was a total flop for you. I had good luck with it but I don’t think you were the only one who had trouble. I’m glad you got back in the kitchen and gave candy another shot with David’s recipe. The toffee looks wonderful and sounds like it was a huge hit with the family 🙂

  2. Sorry to hear about your first batch. I’m glad your second batch turned out great. Great job for not giving up and trying again :o)

    Here’s a tip (I got it from Alton Brown): spray the inside of the pan with cooking spray then add your toffee or caramel ingredients. It prevents crystallization. I’ve been doing this for a while now and can’t even remember the last time I had crystallization issues.

    Greetings from the Grand Canyon!

    -Hanaa

  3. It’s good to see you back, I hope things are better. Your toffee looks incredible. I made two terrible batches of the SM toffee (and I had to get out of the kitchen for a while before I could face the third) and one decent one. I think I will try the DL version next time I want toffee.

  4. I love David Lebovitz and he’s yet to fail me!! His caramel recipes are just so dependable. I was new to caramel and in a bit of a muddle when I first attempted it but his posts on the subject are so useful and now make it far too often than can be healthy for me or my waistline!! I think I might try this again with his recipe – thank you! xx ps looking forward to your SMS rewind posts – a lovely idea!

  5. That candy looks sooo good! I have that same recipe in my ever-growing “to do” pile. Looks like I’ll have to bump this one up to the front of the line. Thanks!

  6. Your candy is beautiful! Thanks for sharing your difficulties and subsequent success. I LOVE David Lebovitz and his recipes never fail to please. Glad to hear you made the bread pudding and can’t wait to see your post!

  7. Oh Joy, I love reading about your mishaps 😉 Mainly because they make me feel like I’m not alone in my mishaps. I had the same problem as you and thanks to your/David’s recipe (which I just printed) I have restored faith and I’ll get back on that horse and try, try again.

    I do miss hearing from you and I hope all is well. 🙂

  8. Thanks for stopping by to say hello. It’s always nice to here from you!
    Your candy looks so good and I love the sound of the recipe you shared.
    Im so sorry your life has been filled with some extra stress and sickness. It really makes you appreciate the healthy good times, doesn’t it!
    I hope things keep looking up for you and your baking your heart out again!

  9. Joy, so sorry that Melissa’s recipe didn’t work out for you. But I think you’ve done a service to everyone who it didn’t work out for by giving them another recipe to try! I think I’ll even try it myself just to see which recipe I like best.

  10. Glad to see you are back Joy! I wasn’t a huge fan of the Melissa Murphy version either. Even though the candy turned out fine, I wasn’t a big fan of the flavor. It was just missing something. Though everyone I gave it to loved it. I’m definitely going to give the DL version a try.

  11. Hi Joy,

    Long time, no hear. I hope you’re doing well. I thought I’d send some encouragement your way in case you’re not feeling your best these days. Baking the last SMS recipe of the year, choc espresso cheesecake, wouldn’t be the same without you. I hope you can find a way to make it. I’m sure you and your family will love it. Looking forward to checking out your blog on Sunday.

    Best wishes,
    Your friend Hanaâ

  12. Well, I’m glad its not just me who’s at war with butter crunch. I consider myself a confident baker, but every Christmas I attempt butter crunch and seem to have problems. This year is no different and its left me deflated. 2 batches down, let’s hope this third is the charm and definitely will use DB’s recipe. I’ve used it before, not sure why I didn’t again. Thanks for telling your story. Buttercrunch is elusive indeed! Your candy looks fab, exactly what I wish mine looked like;)

  13. Sorry the SMS recipe didn’t work out. I love your determination, the toffee looks amazing. Nicely done. I sure hope to find time to get back to blogging. It’s overwhelming when you have been gone so long, but I am thinking baby steps. Hope all is well, Happy Holidays.

  14. Pingback: SMS: Chocolate-Honey Creme Caramels « Hot Oven, Warm Heart

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