Sunday, December 12, 2010

Toffee Almond Crunch

Over the next few weeks, Becky and I are sharing some of the holiday treats we traditionally make this time of year. Today's treat is Toffee Almond Crunch and is, in the grand scheme of things, a newer addition to the K&B holiday baking menu.

I am quite proud of this toffee, mainly because it is mine. I didn't read about it on a blog and get inspired. No one requested that I make it, which is often why I try new recipes. Last Christmas I simply said to myself "I wonder how you make toffee?", found a recipe, got up the courage to face my fear of molten sugar, and made some.

Then I made some more, and some more, and some more. I can't even count how many batches of this I made last Christmas.

But enough talking, right? Let's make some toffee!

First, the prep work:
Toast your almonds and set them out to cool.

Generously grease a large cookie sheet, and when I say generously, I mean a Pioneer Woman + Paula Dean amount of butter. If you're worried about using that much butter, you shouldn't be making toffee in the first place, but we will be getting rid of some of that butter later, so calm down.

While the almonds are still cooling, get distracted by the Cookie Pizza recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook circa 1991 currently sitting on your table. Notice how there are M&Ms on the pizza, but none of them are blue. Think about how in 1991, no one had even dreamed of blue M&Ms. Then remember how your Grandpa B - King of M&Ms - never got to taste blue M&Ms himself because he died right before they debuted, and how you and Beck went to the cemetery and shared a pack of M&Ms with Grandpa, eating all the normal colored ones but putting all the blue ones in the vase with his flowers so he could try them. When you're ready to leave that memory, come back to the toffee, which, by the way, Grandpa B would have loved.

Coarsely chop one cup of blanched almonds. These will be for the toffee itself.
Finely chop a different cup of almonds. These will be for sprinkling on top of the chocolate layer.
Put the coarsely chopped almonds in a bowl near the stove so you have them handy.

Okay! Prep work done. Well...almost. It's best to measure your sugar, corn syrup, and water out before you start melting the butter, so as not to stress once you get going. Did you measure out those three things? Yes? Good job! Now we're ready for the good part (also known as the dangerous part. If you are baking with small children, best to keep them out of the kitchen for this next part).

Melt 2 sticks salted butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat.

If you're like me and have a super weird thing about setting timers and dials and clocks on exact, obvious marks, set your dial to slightly more than medium. (For years I had a problem setting my alarm clock exactly on the hour, half-hour, or quarter hour, always setting it for 6:59 or 7:01. I'm over that now, but the oven dial thing remains. One thing at a time, right?) 

Once the butter is melted, pick up the pan and swirl the butter around so the butter goes up the sides of the pan. This will help the sugar not stick to the sides. Then add sugar, water, and corn syrup, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Now put down the spoon, and DO NOT TOUCH IT AGAIN UNTIL I TELL YOU TO! You are going to want to pick it up, but you shall not, because you are stronger than the spoon.

Repeat after me: "I will swirl, not stir."


You've got your butter/sugar mixture on the stove over medium. Set your kitchen timer for three minutes. The sugar will foam up and start to bubble. You may also see some vapor as the water evaporates. After three minutes - and only after three minutes - pick up the pan with both hands and swirl the mixture around a few times. Put the pan back down and reset your timer for three more minutes. When the timer goes off, swirl again. Then reset your timer for...wait for it...three more minutes.

Personally, I cannot watch sugar boiling for three minutes without picking up a spoon and stirring. It's simply not possible. Are you like me and need a distraction to get through those 120 seconds? I suggest these activities:

- Washing all the silverware in the sink.
- Pre-empting the calories in the toffee by doing jumping jacks.
- Seeing if you can hold your Pilates plank for a whole three minutes (for me, not quite, but pretty close).
- Drinking a bunch of water, because water is good for you!

Whatever you do, don't ever go far from the stove, especially during the last couple sets of three minutes. You want to be able to check the sugar at a glance to make sure it isn't burning.

You want the sugar to be a deep amber color. If you start to smell even a hint of burned sugar, remove the pan from the heat right away. Mine was done after about 14 minutes.

When you have the right color, remove the pan from the heat and working quickly but carefully, PICK UP THE SPOON and stir in the coarsely chopped nuts. Immediately dump the hot, sugary, buttery glob onto the greased cookie sheet and use the spoon to spread it towards the edges of the pan.  Set the pan aside to cool completely.

Gently invert the toffee onto parchment or wax paper. Get rid of all that butter by wiping the toffee with a paper towel.

Melt 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips in the microwave and spread over the top.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of finely chopped almonds on top. Put the toffee in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the chocolate sets.

When the chocolate is set, lay parchment over the top, flip the toffee, and do it all over again - paper towel, chocolate, nuts.  Place back in fridge so the second side can set.

Take the toffee out of the fridge and let it warm up just a bit. Wash your hands real good, then break the toffee into pieces. My advice here: DON'T try to break it using just your fingertips (unless you have abnormally strong fingers), or by pulling up on a corner with one hand while the other holds the toffee on the countertop (you'll only smash your average fingers). DO firmly grab the toffee with both hands and commit to snapping it in two, like you do when you break a banana in half. Take charge, people. You can do it.

Note: you'll lose a lot of almonds in this process. This is okay. I like to think that some of the almonds are happy to be martyrs for the sake of the overall deliciousness of this toffee.

And you're done! I like to store the toffee in the fridge so the chocolate doesn't melt in our insanely hot apartment, but it should be fine at room temperature, especially for short periods of time like in a candy bowl during a holiday shindig. This toffee also makes an excellent gift all wrapped up in tissue paper in a pretty box or tin.

Consider this my holiday gift to you.  Enjoy!

- Katie

Toffee Almond Crunch
Recipe adapted from

2 cups slivered, blanched almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) SALTED butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  Toast almonds on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 7-8 minutes, stirring at the 5 minute mark.  Set aside to cool. Generously grease a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with butter.

2. Coarsely chop 1 cup almonds and set aside near the stovetop. Finely chop remaining cup and set aside.

3. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, swirling the pan so the butter goes up the sides of the pan. Add sugar, corn syrup and water, and continue to cook over medium heat, swirling the pan every three minutes.

4.  When sugar is a deep amber color (hard-crack stage on a candy thermometer, approximately 300 F), remove from heat and quickly stir in coarsely chopped nuts. Spread mixture on greased cookie sheet. Let cool completely.

5. Invert toffee onto parchment or waxed paper and wipe with a paper towel to remove grease.

6. Melt 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips in the microwave in 30 second intervals, then spread chocolate over toffee. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts. Place in refrigerator to set.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for other side.

8. Break toffee into pieces. Store in refrigerator.

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