Adrian here.  The following post and recipe comes from my mother, Barbara Dentzel.  Even though she calls this toffee "practically perfect", when it comes out right, it is one of the best things I can imagine eating.  The felt hearts you see below are something she makes every year around Valentine's day, a craft she picked up while working with weavers in Chiapas, Mexico in the 70's. 

It has been a few years since I dared try to make toffee again. I had started to gather all the fixings after Thanksgiving to make a batch for Christmas with my new copper candy pot. But things got hectic. Valentines Day is coming up, so I gave it a whirl. The first batch was grainy and mushy but I ignored that and covered it with chocolate and walnuts.  Each time I took a bite, I pretended that it really tasted just the same as clear, crunchy toffee.  But alas, there was no denying that it hadn't set correctly.

I made a second batch. I let the mixture heat up a little more, beyond Hard-Ball stage (250-265 degrees F), but this time everything separated into puddles of oily butter and grainy lumps. I quit, and waited a few days before trying yet again. I had a long breakfast. Read more of the Sunday New York Times, took my sweet time, looking up at the clock and procrastinating as much as possible for fear of another failed batch.  Good thing my niece, Sophia, called, “Hey Aunt Barbara, just called to see what you’re up to”. She had been witness and helper years ago to some good batches of toffee and, unfortunately, seen the beginning of all the bad batches.  We have talked every Christmas about when I would try making some toffee again. “I’m just about to make some toffee, wanna come over?”  She did. 

Before diving in, I called my friend Kim, a chef and caterer. She told me to just turn up the heat and stir my way through the gunk if it all starts coming apart.  Was I getting it too hot?  I’m supposed to get up to Soft-Crack stage (270-290 degrees F) and then down to Hard-Ball, right? “I don’t know! You’ll know. It falls apart, but then it all comes back together, honey.”  Kim’s from the south. “Just keep going. Don’t be afraid to get it real hot”.

Last year I bought a pure copper pot for candy making at Dehillerin in Paris, and it was time to use it.  We let it rip and put some elbow grease into it.

Here’s what happened.



2 C refined sugar (We use the organic from Trader Joe’s)
1 ¾ C filtered water
¾ lb unsalted butter

1 t. salt, (we ground some grey sea salt, but of course any salt will do)
1 lb raw whole almonds
1 lb walnuts chopped
1 lb at least of bittersweet chocolate

*if you use salted butter skip adding the 1t. of salt

Necessary equipment:

-Heavy bottomed stainless steel pot or copper candy pot for making the toffee.
-A decent candy thermometer
-Use a wooden spoon only
-Use a double boiler for melting the chocolate.
-Use two equal sized cookie sheets with rims or jelly roll pans
-waxed paper

This, at long last, is how it works.

1. Melt half of the dark chocolate in the double boiler. This will be used to coat the first/top side of the toffee after it has been poured out onto the cookie sheet and cooled.  Chop your walnuts so that they’re all ready to sprinkle on to the hot melted chocolate when it’s time to spread it on the toffee. You have to spread quickly and sprinkle deftly before it hardens.

 Melting chocolate in a double boiler, Toffee mixture with almonds

2. Into your copper candy pot or heavy bottomed stainless steel pot, put all the water and sugar and begin to cook on medium high. Stir off and on and then constantly, until it reaches the Soft-Crack on your indispensable candy thermometer. About 285 degrees F. This stage is important as it totally de-crystalizes the sugar and gets you on your way to crunchy, not mushy, toffee. The sugar water will bubble and spit and get thick.

3. Now add the three sticks of butter and the almonds. The mixture will really start to bubble and spit. Stir hard with a wooden spoon through the bubbling and spitting. You will graduate into a more tamed, modestly bubbling, taffy-like consistency. Then just keep stirring and stirring. Fear not. If your mixture, like mine usually does, starts to separate, just stir harder. As you approach and/or reach the perfect moment you might hear the almonds pop and release a subtle almond oil aroma. Now is when it all comes together magically, right about when it reaches Hard-Crack on your thermometer, around 300 degrees F. (Here’s where the rub was. I had mistakenly written HARD BALL on my recipe, and so the mixture was constantly regressing to a grainy, loveless mush at less than 285 degrees.  A big no no.)

4. When the toffee reaches 300 degrees, and a darkish caramel color, turn off the heat and pour into one of the cookie trays. Let it spread and help it, into all four corners.  Put into the freezer so it cools more quickly.

 5. Take it out of the freezer and quickly spread on a thin layer of chocolate with a spatula. Then quickly sprinkle the walnuts while the chocolate is still soft. It’s really nice and fun to have another set of hands at this point, but by no means necessary. Cover with some wax paper and push down gently so the walnuts embed into the chocolate.

6. Put this back into the freezer for a bit so it cools. Now melt the second portion of chocolate in the double boiler for the bottom/second side. When the toffee is cool, take it out of the freezer. Line the other cookie tray with wax paper, sticking out over the sides. Lay the empty tray, face down, directly on top of the toffee laden tray. Hold tight, and flip it over. Tap the tray and the sheet of toffee should just drop down into the second tray.  Now you’re ready to cover this side with chocolate and walnuts.  Cool it again in the freezer. Break up into large or small bits and eat as much as your little heart desires or store in an air tight container.

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