Some of my cooking projects turn out to be like governmental panchavarshik yojana (5-year plans)- grand plans that may or may not ever materialize. This whole idea of learning to make candy at home has been only two years in the making. It all started when Cathy came to tea bearing a box of toffee, the recipe for which she had learnt from David Lebovitz in a cooking class. Cathy claimed that this candy was very easy to make, but when Cathy says things like that, I don't believe her for a second. This is a person who makes adorable felted bunnies and spins tea towels from scratch. She recently finished baking her way through an entire cookbook, bringing a new cookie in to her workplace nearly every Monday for 3 years. In short, Cathy is not your average person...not by a long shot.
Turns out that she was not kidding about the candy, however. Soon after I tasted Cathy's candy, in an incredible stroke of luck, David Lebovitz posted that candy recipe on his blog, with a wonderful detailed post for wannabe candy-makers (read it carefully-twice-before attempting this candy). Apart from ingredients like sugar, butter, nuts and chocolate, the only investment this recipe needs is a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the syrup and determine when it has been cooked to the right stage.
What is candy? Cooked sugar, essentially. The simple things are always the most deceptive; candy-making is sheer physical chemistry, and pages 680-693 of Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" provide a fascinating glimpse into the science of candy (the number of pages giving an idea of how much technicality there is to discuss). Is a candy thermometer essential? No. The time-honored method of cooling the syrup quickly (in a bowl of cold water) and testing its stage (soft ball/hard ball/soft crack/hard crack...no I did not make these names up) works just fine. But a candy thermometer makes life a lot easier for the less experienced cook like me- having to judge the balls of syrup and making up your mind about the stage of the syrup while the rest of it is still boiling away can be stressful. I bought a sturdy-looking analog Pyrex candy thermometer for 8$ and it is well worth it.
Choco-Nut Buttercrunch Toffee
1. Coarsely chop 2 C toasted nuts. I used pecans and almonds and chopped them in the food processor. For the next batch I will use 1.5 C nuts, use only almonds and chop them by hand; the food processor resulted in some nut powder and nut pieces that were quite uneven.
2. Lightly grease a 8x10 inch (or so) rectangle on a baking sheet. Spread half the chopped nuts on the sheet and leave the other half aside.
3. Chop 5 oz fair-trade bittersweet chocolate and set it aside.
4. Also place nearby coarse salt crystals (for sprinkling), 1/4 t baking soda and 1 t vanilla extract.
5. In a medium heavy saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine 1 stick (1/2 C) butter cut into small pieces, 1 1/4 C sugar, a dollop of molasses, a hefty pinch of salt and 2 T water. Heat with minimum or no stirring until the temperature reads 300F (hard crack stage). This took perhaps 10-15 minutes, and the syrup was at a great boil by that time, although it thankfully it did not boil over the sides of the pan.
6. Once the temp is reached, take syrup off the heat, stir in vanilla and baking soda and pour it all over the nuts on the baking sheet. I was thrilled that the syrup flowed very well and spread itself quite nicely.
7. Scatter the chocolate bits all over the syrup. Let them melt for a couple of minutes and then spread the chocolate all over with a table knife or spatula.
8. Sprinkle with coarse salt and the remaining nuts. Press the nuts in gently so that they will set into the chocolate. Let it cool down.
Verdict: What can I say? This is some drop-dead amazing candy. It tastes exactly like the stuff that you buy for exorbitant sums of money from glassed-in confection palaces. If you like butterscotch, and were a fan of Cadbury's "nutties" with that irresistible center, this candy is for you. This candy moved the normally-unflappable V to say "Holy Cr**", which may not sound like a compliment, but is the equivalent of a Michelin star in V-speak. Yes, this is a man of few words. Somehow, I have a feeling that I am going to be making many many batches of this buttercrunch toffee. Hard crack? Crack is right. This stuff is addictive. You have been duly warned. I owe you, Mr. Lebovitz.
Next stop in Candyland: peanut chikki as soon as I can hack the dhep (mound) of jaggery into manageable chunks. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, here are some more candy recipes for your sweet tooth (and most don't need a candy thermometer). I am loosely defining candy as something bite-sized and sweet and delicious that is not a cookie or cake:
A list of easy candy recipes from The Kitchn
Kalyn's great list of homemade food gifts has a section on candy
Hot Peppered Candied Walnuts from The Candied Quince
Vegan Chocolate Truffles from The 'Yum' Blog
Chocolate Truffles from The Perfect Pantry
Dark Chocolate Nuggets from Vegetarian Times
I am sending another picture of the candy to this month's CLICK event. The theme is "NUTS".
Psst...have you heard about the best deal this holiday season? $10 buys you a raffle ticket for the annual foodbloggers' fund-raising event, the Menu for Hope 4. All of your money goes towards bringing a nutritious school lunch to children in Lesotho, Africa. Meanwhile, lady luck could be spinning her magic to make you the lucky winner of one of the ridiculously desirable prizes donated by generous food bloggers. You could discuss candy-making with Harold McGee in person (UW11 buys you a chance for lunch with him), or indulge your sweet tooth with a ticket for UC04: the ice cream maker package. Or maybe AP11: online diet makeover to recover from all that holiday feasting. Choose from any of the dozens of other books, jams, chocolate boxes and kitchen tools that are raining down. Don't miss out! Go grab your tickets here from now until the 21st of December.