Sunday, January 2, 2011

Buttery Pecan Toffee

I know, I know, the holidays are over, but since so many unforseen things kept me from getting any cookies baked this year I thought I would share just one more of my favorite go-to recipes for Christmas treats. I have seen other toffee recipes with more ingredients, so I think it's funny that people often don't believe me when I way this is just basically nothing more than butter and sugar. When I first started making it, I probably threw out 20 pounds of butter and sugar just trying to get it right because the actual recipe just says "cook until it is the color of toffee". I had no idea how long to cook it or how high the heat should be, so I just kept trying until I got it right, and it was SO worth it. Really, it's not that hard once you get the hang of judging the color of the toffee as it cooks. If I had step by step pictures of what it was supposed to look like along the way I would have gotten it right a lot sooner... and now that I have done that for you, I am thrilled to share what I've learned!

The original recipe is called "Elegant Toffee", and it came from my sis-in-law, Sara. She brought some along one year when they came home for Christmas, and I had to have the recipe because it was ridiculously good. Her version is a bit more labor intensive, because she first pours the toffee over whole almonds, and then breaks it up after it has cooled, dips each piece in chocolate, and then rolls the whole thing in crushed walnuts. Mmm... it's not only delicious, but it looks beautiful as well. I prefer pecans though, and I wanted more toffee and less chocolate, so I adapted it to make it the way I like it, and a lot less work.

Here is what you will need to make this:

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

Pecans (either whole or chopped.. I use chopped)

A handful of chocolate chips

Pecan meal or pecan cookie pieces (Fisher makes these, they are just really finely chopped pecans.. you could even do this yourself if you want.)

First, butter a large jelly roll pan. You can either butter the pan, line it with foil and butter the foil for easier cleanup, or use the non-stick foil. Sprinkle the pecans rather densely in the center. Whether you use chopped pecans or whole, just use a lot. You don't have to measure any certain amount.. I just think the finished toffee is better if there are a LOT of pecans in it.

Get a small, heavy saucepan. I use an old Club Aluminum pot that used to belong to my grandmother. I love it because it has a wooden handle and I think of Grandma whenever I use it.

Melt the butter and sugar together over medium-high heat. One of the problems I had at first was that my butter and sugar mixture kept separating while it was cooking. I figured out that this was because I didn't have the heat high enough. If this happens to you, just turn up your heat a little, keep stirring, and eventually it will come back together and be fine.

Once it starts melting, you absolutely MUST stir it continuously the whole time. Do not walk away from this or it won't work! The mixture will come to a bubbly boil and will look like pudding.

Keep stirring and you will notice the mixture slowly begin to change color and consistency.

Keep stirring.

This is the color you are going for:

The darkened areas are because I stopped stirring briefly to take the photo, you don't want this, so DON'T STOP STIRRING! When it turns this pretty toffee color, it does so very quickly, so watch it closely.. and did I mention that you have to keep stirring?

The moment your mixture turns this color, immediately pour it over the pecans and spread it as quickly as you can to the desired thickness. It sets up very quickly, so do the best you can. Don't worry about the bubbles, they will go away as it cools. Remember that this mixture will be extremely hot, so be very careful! It will look like a misshapen glob on your pan, and don't worry if you can't get all of the pecans covered. Just use them in the next batch. Because just one batch is never enough. Don't try to double this to save time, it won't work.

Wait a few minutes for it to set, and then sprinkle some chocolate chips over the toffee. You can see the mine have sunken in a bit, but just leave them alone and it will be fine. I use semi-sweet, but you could use milk-chocolate too if you like that better, or leave the chocolate off altogether if you don't like it. Seriously, I actually know someone who hates chocolate.. I can't make stuff like that up. Anyway, place another cookie sheet on top of your pan to help melt the chocolate more quickly, then spread it all over. Spreading chocolate all over sounds so naughty... okay, focus. Are you still with me?

While the chocolate is still nice and melty, sprinkle the finely chopped pecans on top. Once I found pecan meal in the store, which I really liked for this because the pecans were so finally ground they were almost like dust. Just a light dusting was perfect, but I have never been able to find it again, and I'm too lazy to get out whatever gadget I might need to do it myself, so I use the "cookie pieces".

It's best to let this cool overnight before you try and break it up into pieces because you want it completely cool and the chocolate needs plenty of time to cool and harden. This is one of those treats that when you take that first bite everything goes blank and all you can do is roll your eyes and say Mmmmmm.. over and over...

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