How to Make Toffee: A Comprehensive Guide

When I first set out to make my own toffee, I heard through the grapevine that toffee recipes look easy but that there is actually an infinite number of things that could go wrong and ruin a batch. Unlike cookies or soup, it’s pretty impossible to rescue ruined toffee once it passes a certain threshold, resulting in a very large amount of wasted butter and sugar.

I did a lot of research and compiled a list of all the techniques that increases your likelihood of success. My first batch came out perfect! For my second batch, I got cocky, doubled the recipe, and lost the whole lot. I learned a lot along the way, and now I can pass those lessons on to you.
This is a comprehensive guide to how to guarantee that your toffee turns out amazing on the first try. I recommend reading the whole article through first before setting out to make your toffee.

Step 1: Prepare Your Equipment

YOU NEED A CANDY THERMOMETER. This is not negotiable. You can buy these for $10-20 on Amazon or in a store that sells cooking gear. You don’t need anything fancy. You just need something that accurately takes the temperature of your food.

When you get your candy thermometer, test it to make sure it is accurate. Here’s how you do that:
At sea level, water boils at 212 degrees F, but with each 500-feet increase in elevation, the boiling point of water decreases by about 1 °F. You want to find out at which temperature water boils at your elevation. This question seems complicated but you only have to figure out this information once!

Google the name of your city and elevation. Google should list an easy to find number at the top of the page. Then check out this chart to see what temperature water boils at that elevation.

Once you have your number, fill a pot with water and put your thermometer in the water. Bring the water up to a boil and carefully watch what temperature your thermometer reads when the water reaches a full boil. Make sure you are looking at the thermometer straight on. It should reach a boil right at the temperature you determined earlier.

If your water boils a few degrees below or above when expected, make a note of that. With just a few degrees of difference, you can usually add or subtract that number to the magic temperature that candy is created and be fine. If it’s 10 degrees off or more, return that candy thermometer and get a new one.

Make sure to do this test each and every time you make candy.

TIP: Make a note of how much of a difference there is between the temperature your water boils and 212 degrees. You’ll also want this information later when you’re making the candy. For example, if water boils at 211 degrees where you are, your candy will be ready at 297 degrees instead of the standard 298 degrees.

Other special equipment you will need:

  • A heavy bottom pot that is the same size or smaller than your most reliable burner
  • A non-metal heat safe spoon
  • 2-3 baking sheets, preferably rimmed
  • Parchment paper or silicone baking mats (I use Silpat mats and they’re amazing)
  • A heat-safe spatula
  • A pastry brush

Note: You’ll want your heavy bottom pot to be a minimum of 2 qts for this recipe. My 2 qt pot is JUST BARELY big enough, and I’m scared it’s going to overflow when it bubbles up every time. When the bubbles reach the top, I focus on stirring around the edges to pop the bubbles for a couple minutes until enough water evaporates and the level of liquid lowers.

Step Two: Weigh Your Ingredients

Measuring your ingredients by weight will ensure the recipe is as accurate as possible. It’s pretty frequent that 1 lb of butter is actually 1 lb only when including packaging, and you’ll lose 0.15oz by unwrapping it.

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz butter (chopped into cubes)
  • 16 oz white sugar
  • 3 oz warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Toppings of your choice (toasted almonds, crushed peppermint candy, sea salt, etc)
  • 12 oz dark chocolate

This recipe makes around 2 lbs of toffee which is PLENTY to give out to friends with enough left over to keep for yourself. I don’t recommend doubling this recipe, because the longer it takes for toffee to cook, the more likely it will burn or separate. Reducing the recipe by half is fine as long as you stick to weight measurements.

Step Three: Get Ready

Prepare everything you need before diving in. Toffee is quick, detail-oriented work. You won’t have time to go looking for the pan you need later on.

I recommend having on hand:

  • All your toffee ingredients pre-measured, except chocolate and toppings
  • Your heavy-bottomed pot, heat safe spoon, and candy thermometer
  • A pastry brush and small bowl of water
  • A small pot of water, kept hot on a nearby burner, and a tablespoon
  • Two or three baking sheets covered with good quality parchment paper or silicone baking mats, and your heat-safe spatula nearby.
  • The pastry brush, small bowl of water, and pot of hot water are all tools you’ll need to prevent toffee disaster. I’ll explain how to use those later.

Step four: Make Your Toffee

Once you start this step, you’re in it for the long haul, so make sure you have 30-45 minutes of uninterrupted time ahead of you. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Clip your candy thermometer to the inside of your pot, so that it will be fully submerged.
    Add the butter to your heavy bottom pot and melt over a medium-high heat. Bring the butter to a boil. Then add the warm water.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil again and add the sugar and salt.
  3. Carefully and quickly stir in the sugar with your heat safe spoon to dissolve it as efficiently as possible. Try to avoid splashing the sugar around the edges of the pot.
  4. Take your pastry brush and bowl of water and wash down the sides of the pot, thermometer, and spoon to dissolve any sugar crystals. This preventative measure will keep the undissolved sugar from reacting to the butter and separating the mixture.
  5. Stir slowly and consistently and watch your candy thermometer like a hawk. The mixture will slowly turn a golden brown and begin to thicken.
  6. The mixture should be boiling for a minimum of 20 minutes before it reaches the magic number of 298 degrees, which is when the mixture enters the “hard crack” stage. If you boil it for less than 20 minutes, your toffee will be yellow and flavorless. Be ready to get moving as soon as it hits 298 degrees because you don’t want to burn the candy.
  7. As soon as you hit 298 degrees (or whatever temperature you calculated earlier) take the pot off the stove, and quickly stir in the vanilla. Make haste to your baking sheets and pour the toffee over them, dividing the mixture up between two or three sheets.
  8. Immediately grab your heat-safe spatula and spread the toffee out thin. The mixture will cool and begin to solidify quickly so keep moving. It doesn’t have to be even or pretty. Often, thinner toffee has the best taste and texture, so don’t be afraid to have spots where the toffee is slightly transparent.

Apologies for the blurry photos. My phone is poor at focusing automatically and I was in a rush to tend to the toffee.

Tip: DON’T TOUCH THE BAKING SHEETS in the 10 minutes after you pour the toffee onto them. That sugar mixture is molten hot and your baking sheets will feel as if they’ve just come out of the oven if you touch them.

Damage Control

Convincing sugar and butter to bond is actually rather difficult and it’s very easy for things to go south quickly. Here are some things to watch out for, and ways to prevent disaster:

–Continue to watch out for undissolved sugar granules around the edges of the pot and use your pastry brush and water to dissolve them. I also pay attention to the texture of the mixture under my spoon. If it feels grainy and rough, there may be some undissolved sugar I need to tend to.

–Never drastically change the temperature of your toffee, either by suddenly cranking up the heat, or taking it off the stove, etc. Always make temperature shifts slowly.

–Don’t stir too quickly or with a metal spoon, as this will cool down the toffee.

Halting Disaster

If you start to notice pools of butter collecting on the edges of your brown sticky mixture, you’ll want to act fast. This means that the sugar and butter are starting to separate. Here’s how to handle the situation:

  • The first thing to try is to take the pot off the heat and stir constantly and smoothly (but not quickly!) to see if it re-integrates. Then slowly return it to the heat, continuing your stirring.
  • If that doesn’t work, grab your handy tablespoon and hot water that you had ready and waiting. Carefully pour a tablespoon of hot water into your toffee and stir. BE CAREFUL! The mixture will likely sputter, and hot sugar can be really dangerous. Stir in the water and see if the butter stops separating. You can add up to 4 tablespoons of hot water, one tablespoon at a time, in order to save your toffee. But if you get to 4 and you’re still seeking yellow fat creeping up at the edges, then I’m sorry to say your candy is unsalvageable.
  • If your toffee separates after you’ve poured it out, there’s no way to reverse the process.

Step five: Take a Break

Leave your toffee to cool for a minimum of 30 minutes. You’ve finished the most anxiety-inducing part. When you come back, the candy will be rock hard. How cool is that?

Step six: Prepare Your Toppings

There are many toppings you can choose from for your toffee. Here are a few ideas:

Chopped Nuts: Almonds and Pecans are probably the most popular choices. Choose how finely you want your nuts to be chopped depending on the texture you want for your toffee. For extra depth of flavor, you can toast your nuts before chopping them. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet covered in parchment paper, spread out your nuts in a single layer. Bake the nuts for 5-10 minutes until the nuts have slightly darkened in color and smell lovely. Don’t burn them!

Crushed Candy Canes: What a great way to make this treat holiday themed! Take candy canes and place them in a ziplock back. Put the bag on a cutting board and hit the candy canes with a rolling pin until they are broken into very small pieces. Remember, people will be taking bites of these, so you want the shards to be pretty tiny.

Crushed Pretzels: You can use the same method as with the candy canes to get these to the desired size, for a salty crunch on top of your toffee.

Drizzled chocolate: Melt a second kind of chocolate such as white chocolate, dip a spoon in and drizzle the chocolate in a zig-zag pattern over the standard layer of chocolate.

Sea salt: This is my favorite topping. Ever had salted caramel? Same idea. Just sprinkle a very light layer of salt over the toffee when it’s toppings time.

Preparing the Chocolate

Melt your chocolate in a heat-safe bowl. The best way to ensure well-tempered chocolate is to bring about an inch of water in a small pot to a simmer, place a heat-safe bowl on top of the pot (making sure the bowl does not touch the water) and place the chocolate inside of the bowl, stirring until the chocolate has melted. You can also microwave it 30-45 seconds at a time, stirring between each heating session.

As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove it from your heat source and stir to cool it down. I recommend stirring for 20-30 seconds, then walking away for a few minutes, then stirring again. To check to see if your chocolate is cool enough, dab a tiny bit of chocolate just above your upper lip. When it is ready, it should feel slightly cool on your lip.

Step seven: Assemble the toffee

Take a paper towel and carefully wipe any excess grease from the top of the toffee.
Pour the melted chocolate onto the toffee, dividing it equally between each sheet. I find it works best if you pour it into one pile, rather than over the whole sheet so that it doesn’t cool down too quickly.

Using your spatula (or an offset spatula if you have one) spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth, but you want to aim for a consistent layer chocolate over the surface of the candy.

Working quickly before the chocolate sets, sprinkle your toppings over the entire slab of toffee. Err on the side of too many toppings, because some may fall off in the process of breaking the toffee into smaller pieces.

Leave the chocolate to set for at least 30 minutes until there are no wet spots.

Note: If you want both sides of your toffee to be covered in chocolate, double the weight of chocolate listed in the recipe, and repeat the melting, cooling, and spreading process a second time after the first half is set. It’s okay if your toffee cracks a little in the process of lifting it up and turning it over. It’s going to be broken into small pieces anyways.

Step eight: Breaking the Toffee

Now comes the fun part! Carefully lift your toffee off the baking sheet, peeling the baking mat or parchment paper off the bottom. Then, start breaking it!

I like to start by simply dropping it on the baking sheet with some force and then taking a segment and breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces. It’s okay if this is messy, it’s okay if they are all different shapes and sizes. Keep a good grip on both sides of the toffee as you break it, to limit the amount the chocolate and toffee break in different places.

While it’s tempting to leave it in cracker-sized pieces, toffee is very sweet and fairly rich. Smaller is better. You can always eat a second piece if it’s not enough!

Step nine: Storing the toffee

Make sure to keep your toffee in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer. If stored correctly, this toffee can last months and continue to taste just as delicious. I had a little left over from last year’s batch and it tasted just as good as a year ago!

You can buy pretty tins to put the toffee in but I like to decorate cheap Tupperware containers or leftover plastic containers that I saved and washed after eating the contents, use wrapping paper and double-stick tape to cover the labels, fill them with toffee, and give them out as personalized gifts.

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How to Make Gluten-Free Blackberry Pie

A friend of mine asked for a recipe for gluten-free pie crust so that he could make a pie that I could eat. When he served me the first slice he said, “When was the last time you had a gluten-free pie?” I said, “Er, probably 6 months ago?” He said, “When was the last time you had gluten free pie made someone other than you?” I paused and then said, “Never!”

I can count on one hand the number of times someone has made a pie I could eat since then! I didn’t nail down my ideal pie crust recipe for few years and now I use it for any pie, tart, or quiche that I make and it’s always a hit. It’s buttery and tender and your friends really won’t believe you when you tell them it’s gluten-free.

In this recipe, I’ll teach you how to make the basic pie crust, and then a classic Blackberry filling to make use of it. The following makes enough pie dough for a top and a bottom crust for one 9-inch pie pan.

Gluten-Free Blackberry Pie

Searching for a gluten-free pie crust that doesn't crumble or taste like cardboard? Want a classic recipe to show off your gluten-free skills? Search no further!
Course Dessert
Prep Time 30 minutes
Passive time 1 hour
Servings 8 people

Ingredients

Crust Ingredients

  • ¾ C butter
  • ¾ C white rice flour
  • ½ C brown rice flour
  • ½ C tapioca starch
  • ¼ C potato starch
  • 2 tsp xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ C sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 egg

Filling Ingredients

  • 4 C frozen blackberries about two 1-lb packages
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ C sugar
  • Splash of lemon juice

Equipment

  • A 9-inch pie pan
  • A rolling pin
  • Parchment paper

Instructions

  1. Take your frozen berries out of the freezer to allow them time to thaw and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. To make the dough: Combine all the dry ingredients and the butter in a medium-sized bowl until crumbly.
  3. Add the egg and vinegar. Mix until dough forms, making sure to scrape down mixer if the egg gets caught in the middle. If you’re using an electric mixer, the dough starts to form a ball on its own. If the mixture seems too dry to become dough, add a teaspoon of milk.
  4. Wet your hands before molding the dough into a ball and wrapping with plastic wrap, to prevent crumbling. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  5. To make your filling: Place the berries in a medium-sized bowl. Add your cornstarch, sugar, and a small splash of lemon juice to the berries and mix gently so that the berries are evenly coated. To keep the bottom crust from disintegrating too much, strain berries over another bowl for a few minutes before placing them the pie crust.
  6. Once your dough is chilled, divide it into two equal parts. Lightly spray two pieces of parchment paper with non-stick spray. Place one section of the dough between the two sheets and roll out using a rolling pin. If you’re not sure how big it should be, place the pie pan on top of the rolled out dough. You’re looking for an inch or two wider than the bottom of the pan, and it should be about ¼ inch thick.
  7. Carefully peel off top piece of parchment paper. Take your time. Flip the rolled out dough (paper and all) into a pie pan. Carefully peel the second piece of parchment off. If you accidentally tear a hole, no sweat. Just take some extra dough from the edges and patch up the hole by pressing in the excess with your fingers. Prick the crust all over with a fork to help keep the crust in place during baking.
  8. Repeat the parchment paper process with the other half of the dough.
  9. Flip the second piece of dough onto the top of the pie and adjust the alignment so that it’s centered. Press the edges of the bottom and top crust together and crimp them evenly.
  10. Bake for 40 minutes and then cover with tinfoil to prevent over browning. Bake for an additional 20 minutes until the pie is solid most of the way through.

Gluten-free Pie Baking Tips:

  • For a non-dairy option, replace butter with Smart Balance or Earth Balance. If using Smart Balance, the colder the dough, the better. Try freezing the dough, and then work quickly.
  • If refrigerating or freezing the dough before use, microwave dough for 20-25 seconds to soften before rolling out.
  • If you’re in a hurry, and your kitchen isn’t sweltering hot, you can roll out the dough without refrigerating it. Just be very gentle when you roll it out and anticipate needing to patch some holes when you flip the dough into the pan.
  • If you are pre-baking or blind-baking the crust, bake for 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees. (Blind baking is not required for the recipe above.)
  • When adjusting your own pie recipes to gluten-free, if you are making any kind of fruit pie, toss the fruit with the sugar, cornstarch and any other dry ingredients, then let the fruit strain for 10 minutes. If you keep the excess liquid, the bottom crust will weaken and it will be difficult to get a whole slice out of the pan.

Alternative Topping

If you want to use the crust recipe to make two pies without top crusts, consider replacing them with streusel. Here’s a quick recipe for making a pretty good streusel substitute gluten-free:

Gluten-Free Streusel

Course Topping
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings 2 people

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • ½ C white rice flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ C packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 tsp milk

Instructions

  1. Combine dry ingredients, butter, and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl until crumbly. Add milk and mix. If using an electric mixer, watch very carefully for the crumbs to begin to clump slightly and form larger crumbs. As soon as they do, turn off the mixer. Do not over mix or the crumbles will turn into balls of dough. In the event of over clumping, break the dough into small pieces by hand.
  2. Sprinkle over pies (or muffins!) One batch will cover 1 pie or 9 muffins.

Recipe Notes

When doubling this recipe, keep the measurements of wet ingredients the same to prevent over clumping.

Use this recipe to make fill your pie-craving after switching to gluten-free or make an extra special surprise for your gluten-free friend!

What’s your favorite kind of pie? Let me know in the comments.

 

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How to Make Perfect Easy Hot Chocolate

When I was in high school, there was a little student-run coffee shop in the cafeteria that was open during my free period. Hot chocolate was my go-to substance for stress relief and an energy boost (I’ve never liked the taste of coffee) so I made use of the shop frequently. I drank hot chocolate so frequently that I found out the staff started making bets on whether or not I would order one that day. I ordered a chai latte instead to throw them off.

Green & Black’s cocoa powder used to be my go-to ingredient for Kella’s Special Hot Chocolate, but I was later diagnosed with celiac’s disease, and even something manufactured in a facility with wheat, like Green & Black’s products, was off limits to me.

I experimented with different instant cocoa mixes, but they never quite tasted right, and I found it unnerving that just hot water mixed with a powder could create that kind of texture.

Hot Cocoa Heaven

In the next town over, there used to be an incredible place called Rosie’s Tea House. They served a traditional style high tea including tiny sandwiches, rich soup, mini cheesecakes, and a perfectly brewed pot of tea per person. During one visit there, my friend ordered hot chocolate instead of tea. They brought her an entire teapot of hot chocolate, which she offered to share with me. What followed was the most delicious, most easy to drink hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Ever since, I’ve been determined to replicate that taste and texture. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach hot cocoa nirvana again, but this recipe is so easy, tasty, and customizable that it does the job just fine. No mixes, no stove top, no fancy ingredients required. And I even developed a special mixing technique that avoids all those undissolvable lumps of cocoa powder!

Perfect for chilly weather, here's an easy-to-make delicious recipe for hot chocolate, including suggestions for how to keep this simple classic fun and interesting

Course Dessert
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 1 person

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 ¼ tsp cocoa powder
  • 8 oz milk (I prefer 2% but use whatever you like)
  • ¼ tsp of vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp of other flavors of your choice optional
  • Toppings of your choice optional

Equipment

  • A large microwave-safe mug
  • A fork
  • A microwave

Instructions

  1. Measure your sugar and cocoa powder into the mug. Use a fork to combine the two, eliminating any clumps of cocoa powder.
  2. Pour a very small splash of milk into the sugar/cocoa mixture. Mix together with your fork until it forms a smooth, brown paste. Make sure to incorporate all the cocoa powder so that there are no dry crumbles left around the edges.
  3. Pour a little more milk in, and mix again until the texture is consistent. Slowly pour in the remaining milk and mix one more time.
  4. Microwave for 1 minute. (You’ll want to reduce this time if you have a powerful microwave. The mixture should be warm but not hot after the first nuking session).
  5. Take the mixture out, pour in your vanilla and/or other flavors, and mix. I don’t actually measure the vanilla, I just pour a little into the cap, and carefully add a few drops to the mug.
  6. Return mug to the microwave and heat for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Check temperature by taking a taste, and add an additional 20-30 seconds if needed.

Recipe Notes

Tip: DO NOT USE SPECIAL DARK COCOA POWDER or other Dutch processed cocoas. This extra dark and rich ingredient is incredible in baked goods but doesn’t dissolve properly in milk, and your drink will come out grainy.

Possible flavors to try:

  • Peppermint extract- This makes ordinary cocoa instantly taste like something special from Dutch Brothers! You only need a tiny bit. ¼ tsp is plenty.
  • Candy Cane- For a similar effect as the peppermint extract that’s loads cheaper and comes with built-in holiday flare, stir your hot chocolate with a candy cane. The peppermint candy will melt and gradually infuse the drink with its flavor.
  • Almond extract- Just ½ tsp of this will make for a really lovely, rich and indulgent drink.
  • Bailey’s Irish Cream- For an adult version, add about a shot’s worth of the original or the Hazelnut flavor. It will make you feel warm and cozy all the way down to your toes.


Toppings:

  • Marshmallows- These are obviously the classic choice. I find marshmallows taste the best if you place them on top of your cocoa, and then place the mug back in the microwave for another 20-30 seconds so that the marshmallows are nice and gooey.
  • Mini Marshmallows- A playful alternative with a similar effect!
  • Whipped Cream- Freshly made or sprayed out of a can. Either is light, fluffy, and delicious.
  • Sprinkles- Perfect way to add a fun visual theme to your treat.
  • Salted Caramel- *Drools* Do I need to explain this one?
  • Cool Whip- MY PERSONAL FAVORITE! A big scoop of Cool Whip that’s been kept in the freezer will melt slowly and turn into foam. As you take your first sip, you’ll taste the cold creamy topping contrasting with the hot rich chocolate. It’s simply the best.

Mix and match your favorite combos. The possibilities are endless once you have the basic hot chocolate down! Let me know your flavor and toppings suggestions in the comments below.

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