Sweet with a delicious hint of savory because of the maillard reaction, toffee is one of those sweet treats that is definitely “more-ish”.
Toffee is basically sugar and butter (or sometimes molasses or golden syrup) cooked to either a particular temperature or, to what is referred to in the candy-making world, as a “hard crack” stage. The length of time cooked and/or the heat applied will elicit different textures, flavors and solidity. Today’s inspiration for toffee as the flavor of the day came from some left over sticky toffee pudding topping that found its way to the table with some apple slices. Oh yes, it’s that time of year for toffee apples and pumpkin.
Toffee and Taffy are apparently derived from the same ingredients; one is a result of pouring and the other a result of pulling. Toffee puddings, toffee apples, and toffee sweets to savor are all signs that fall and winter are settling in. I tend to think of toffee as autumn flavor especially with reference to Halloween, however, it is also apparently part of other holiday traditions; according to the National Museum of Wales on Christmas in North Wales people would celebrate with an evening of toffee pulling called 'Noson Gyflaith'.
From a culinary perspective, what’s not to love about the delicious sweetness of toffee. It has everything our brain loves to nosh on; sweet, fat, and the umami flavor of the maillard reaction. You can make toffee pretty easily with just some butter, sugar (or molasses) and if you’re going to pull it, some lemon. If you would just like a little creamy pot of toffee, akin to sticky toffee topping, you cook it slightly less. If you are going to pull then cook it longer until it actually begins to pull from the sides of the pan. Pour it out onto a cookie sheet or clean countertop, butter your hands and begin pulling. Be very careful because initially it will be hot. As you pull and twist it will change color and become easier to turn into different shapes. If you just want to pour it into a pan after you’ve cooked it to the desired density that works too. Pour it into a buttered pan and then slice it into pieces. If you cook it to the hard crack stage you can just break it into pieces and enjoy it as little hard candies.
From a health perspective, well let’s get real; it’s candy we’re talking about, straight sugar with buttery goodness. How good can that be for you??? In moderation, if it’s made from quality ingredients it isn’t going to do much damage. The impact it has on your body will be totally dependent upon the ingredients used and how much is consumed. It’s unfortunate that we’ve become such a sugar laden culture so it is not really possible to enjoy sweet treats as much as they must have been enjoyed back in the day when you really only got to eat something sugary and sweet maybe a few times a year. Each year as the holidays come around I think how fun it would be to prepare a basked of delicious goodies as gifts for friends and family. Then I just as quickly realize, it’s not really a treat. As a populace, we consume so much sugar every day, both apparent and hidden, that to give baskets of more sugar is probably not the best or kindest thing to do.
Imagine what a treat it must have been to wait all year for toffee time! Salivating with anticipation as the ingredients began to bubble and brown and become pliable; the smell must have been completely fantastic and titillating. What a treat to savor.
8 cups dark brown sugar (I use muscovado..you can also use ½ molasses and ½ sugar)
2⁄3 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, pulp strained out
½ lb softened salted butter
Using an enameled or stainless steel saucepan over low heat, gradually dissolve the sugar in the boiling water. Stir it continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. This usually takes from 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the lemon juice and the softened butter, and stir them into the sugar. Boil this mixture fairly briskly, WITHOUT STIRRING it, for 15 minutes.
Gently drop a teaspoonful of the mixture into a cupful of cold water; if it hardens at once, it has reached the required consistency (soft-crack stage).
Pour the mixture slowly onto a buttered marble slab or large flat dish. Do not scrape the saucepan clean as the scraping might turn the toffee back into sugar.
Use extra butter to butter your hands. Pull the taffy into long golden strands while it is still hot. Cut the taffy in smaller pieces. This makes about 3 pounds of toffee.
*National Museum of Welsh History