English Toffee: For Yanic and You

english toffee-5A little while ago, I posted a photo of English toffee I make and sometimes sell.

Some of you reported drooling and wanting to lick your computer screen. One blog pal, Yanic, did the more rational thing:


Yanic: Would you share your English Toffee recipe? It looks amazing.

Kerry: I’d be happy to share my toffee recipe but it’s really the same as every recipe you’d find on allrecipes.com–except instead of using chocolate chips, I temper real chocolate and put it on both side of the toffee. The only ingredients in the toffee itself are sugar, butter, water and vanilla. The only other thing you need is a reliable candy thermometer. Let me know if you want the specifics from the recipe I use.

Yanic: I would love your recipe… since I’ve never made any, even if it’s a classic, I’d rather have a recipe from someone I know. 🙂 Thank you!


So, Yanic (and all lovers of English toffee), this blog’s for you.

First, because I know you have children you love, Yanic, you absolutely must do one of two things if you’re going to make toffee. EITHER make it while they are out of the house or napping OR tell them firmly to put their bottoms in the kitchen chairs and not move until you tell them it’s safe, until the hot syrup is cooked and spread and cool.

I mean it, Yanic—scare them a little because nothing will burn them worse than 300 degree syrup that sticks to the skin.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, collect your many exotic ingredients. That would be sugar, butter, salt, water, and vanilla extract, and whatever you will use for chocolate coating. Candy coating or “melts” are easy but not really chocolate at all. Chocolate chips would be preferable, in my book. Or, if you know how to temper chocolate, use the real thing!

The most exotic necessity for making toffee is the candy thermometer! Be sure you have one!

Here is the recipe I use, which comes from the book that taught me all I know about candymaking, Chocolate and Confections at Home, by Peter P. Greweling.

English Toffee

  • Servings: about 1 pound 14 ounces
  • Print

8 oz. (1 cup) sugar

8 oz. (16 tablespoons; 2 sticks) butter, melted

2 oz. (1/4 cup) water

½ teaspoon salt

½ oz. (1 tablespoon) vanilla

12 oz. (1 ¼ cups) tempered dark chocolate OR dark compound coating, melted

6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) chopped toasted pecans or almonds

  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, melted butter, water, salt, and vanilla extract in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, over medium high heat, and stir constantly with a heat-resistant silicone or rubber spatula.
  3. Place your candy thermometer and continue stirring until mixture reaches 300 degrees F. For me, on my stove, this takes about 18 minutes from start to readiness.
  4. Pour (carefully, Yanic!) onto the prepared pan and spread quickly to the edges of the pan with an offset knife—be very careful not to get the syrup on your hands! Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
  5. If you are using chocolate chips: wait until the toffee has cooled just a bit and sprinkle the top liberally with the chips. Wait a moment or two and the chips will get melty. Use an offset knife to spread the melty-ness and then promptly sprinkle with the nuts you choose. You can really only coat one side of the toffee with the chocolate chips so you should keep it in a tightly sealed container—the uncoated side will be susceptible to humidity.
  6. If you are using candy melts or tempered chocolate, wait until the toffee is completely cooled. If there is oil on the surface of the cooled toffee, wipe it off with a dry paper towel. With your melted coating or tempered chocolate, cover one side and quickly sprinkle with nuts. Give it a few minutes to set, then flip the whole thing over, using a cutting board or another baking sheet. Coat the second side and sprinkle with nuts. Because this approach coats the toffee on both sides, it will probably hold up longer than toffee coated on one side only.

The toffee can be broken with your hands or with the point of a chef’s knife. All those little pieces that split off are super-good over ice cream or mixed into chocolate chip-style cookies!!


And there you have it! The recipe, with both sides chocolate-coated, makes almost two pounds of toffee. I stack pieces in cellophane bags and add a ribbon and . . . no one ever turns it down!

If you make it, let me know!

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Snapshots of Busy-ness

It’s that time of year, when loving hands are busiest! Our house smells like chocolate and looks like a place where lots of fun is being had.

Several projects I’ve been playing with but nothing is finished . . . I’ll tell you more soon!

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And a pretty scarf is still on the loom–slow going but I like it!

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And, of course, there’s candy everywhere.

This is one of the big sellers this year–English toffee!

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I’m sure I know the answer to this question but how busy are your loving hands these days?!

All My Life’s A Circle . . .

coconut bark-2All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown

The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around

All my life’s a circle but I can’t tell you why

The season’s spinnin’ round again the years keep rollin’ by.

As so often happens, I woke up with a song in my head. I think my subconscious provides me with the lyrics, depending on my mood and what is happening in my little piece of paradise.

This morning, the song in my head is Harry Chapin’s “Circle.” I know why.

It’s because the seasons are spinning ’round, and it’s autumn, and candy season has begun.

As I’ve explained before, I sell handmade chocolates, and I can’t temper chocolate for the candy when the temperature is warm. Every spring, when the mercury goes up, I put away the candy-making paraphernalia and my circle spins to other pursuits.

Every September, the circle spins again, I take out my lucky tempering bowl and my digital thermometer, my sugar and butter and chocolate, and I commence to make candies.

I’ve had my first candy foray of 2015 this week. I made a double batch of caramels—about 200 candies—and yesterday I dipped half of them in dark, beautiful Callebaut chocolate. This morning I made white chocolate bark and will dip the rest of the caramels in Callebaut milk chocolate.

(On a side note, there’s a story in the news about someone who worked at Callebaut in Vermont, who hated his job so much he called in a bomb threat, in order to get fired. Never mind, how twisted his thinking was—can you imagine hating a job at a chocolate factory?!)

In the next few months, “candy season” in my world, I’ll make the equivalent of about 500 half-pound boxes of chocolates.

This arc of my circle is pretty predictable. I’ll chop, stir, temper, dip, garnish, package, label, rinse, repeat. And repeat.

I’ll get knickers in a twist about preparing enough candy for the one holiday boutique I participate in, and then I’ll have too much.

I’ll get up in the morning and check Etsy, half hoping to find more candy sales, and half hoping I won’t.

I’ll worry about running out of chocolate or out of half-pound boxes.

At some point, I’ll probably get a nasty sugar burn and I’ll get very, very sick of chocolate.

And, while this arc waxes, others aspects of my circle will wane for now. I’ll have much less time for vintage linens and weaving and blogging and quilting, and I’ll pout about all of that.

I’ll wonder why I do this candymaking thing at all.

But then, I’ll get my first order of the season from the “Queen of Sienna,” a blog friend, fellow seller of vintage lovelies, and loyal lover of chocolate. She’ll say kind things about my candy and be excited I’m back, selling again.

When I do the holiday boutique, people will come specifically looking for something they loved last year or because they heard about the chocolate from a friend. Etsy shoppers will buy candy as Christmas gifts and ask me to include sweet messages to their loved ones far away.

And my family and friends will be pleased when I have extra candy around!

I’ll find I enjoy quiet mornings in my warm space, with the smell of chocolate and caramel and vanilla. I’ll achieve a certain satisfaction from the repetitive motion of dipping caramel after caramel into silky dark chocolate. Zen and the art of candy making.

And, through it all, I’ll know that, when and if it stops being fun and fulfilling, I can put away the lucky bowl and digital thermometer for good. Because the circle of my life isn’t a stone circle, and the seasons can be filled with whatever I choose.

For now, though, I choose chocolate, and candy season.

It’s Time to Change Partners

waltz

from oldbookillustrations.com

I’ve been dancing with one partner too long.

My partner is suave and smooth but rather too insistent and demanding of my attention. He always wants to dance fast, and never to take a break, to sit one out. He has monopolized my time and kept me from others I care for.

As of right now, my dance card is open. I’ve told chocolate to take a seat; I’m going to dance with other partners.

I’m going to dance with vintage linens and selling on Etsy. That dance—the ironing and photographing and listing of beautiful things—is soothing and reliable. It’s a slow dance, my partner is a bit of a plodder, but, with him, there will be no drama, just a warm and mellow twirl around the dance floor. That sounds good right now.

I’m going to dance with quilting, my old, old friend. When we dance, I feel confident and skilled. We’ve danced together so long, it’s a pleasure to return to this partner. He knows my family, has danced with my foremothers. Dancing with him makes me feel nostalgic and at peace. That sounds good right now.

I’m going to dance with blogging. I know myself well enough to see that I’m happiest when he gets a regular dance. I feel energized and creative after each and every dance and, because he’s very social, I get to spend time with old friends and meet new ones when he’s my partner. That sounds good right now.

I’m going to dance with weaving. He’s not an easy partner but he’s very intriguing. I’ve been flirting with him for a while now, and have found him complicated and mysterious. He makes me stretch and learn new steps—I’m never bored with him. That sounds good right now.

And I’m going to save some spots for partners I haven’t met yet, just in case. That sounds good right now.

I know chocolate will be back. In fact, he asked me save the Valentine’s Day dance for him! I’m sure he’ll stop by before then, tap my current partner on the shoulder, and cut in briefly. There’s no doubt I’ll always be happy to see the smooth, old romantic and dance the quickstep again with him.

But at the moment, I’m footloose and free. I will follow Milton’s urging:

Come, and trip it as ye go,

On the light fantastick toe.

I will dance with many partners. That sounds very, very good right now.

It’ll Be Our Secret: Putting the Cordial in the Cherry Cordial

gooeyDid you ever wonder how the liquid gets inside a chocolate-covered cherry?

Whether or not you’re a big fan of chocolate-covered cherries, or cherry cordials, you have to admit they have a special place in the pantheon of the gods of chocolate candies. They are unremittingly sweet and gooey and have that liquid stuff in the middle that is messy, fun, and sort of mysterious.

How did it get there?

I used to imagine someone, maybe an elf or an Oompa Loompa, with a syringe, injecting each and every bonbon with a little gooey syrup.

The truth is both simpler and more magical than that. And I am prepared to share that secret with you.

You are being invited into the inner sanctum of sweets, the cabal of candy, to join the chosen few who know how they put the cordial in the cherry cordials.

Last week, when my fellow Americans were roasting turkeys and stuffing them with stuffing, I took a day off from candy making . . . and made candy.

At our friends’ annual Christmas Eve party last year, while in the throes of holiday cheer and good red wine, I indulged in a little self-aggrandizement and bragged about being able to make cherry cordials.

One of the other guests at the party allowed as how he loved chocolate-covered cherries better than almost anything and I, in my warm, cheerful haze, promised to make him some, to be delivered at this year’s party which, it occurred to me, is soon!

So, I took Thanksgiving Day off from making candy to sell and made candy to keep a promise. Such is the price of self-aggrandizement.

Making chocolate-covered cherries is a multi-step process. It involves making fondant, coating each cherry with the fondant, and then dipping the cherries in tempered chocolate.

Oh, and the most important step—waiting, waiting for the syrup to appear, like an alchemist’s dream, within the chocolate shell.

First, I made fondant, really just cooked sugar syrup, which stayed creamy while I dipped maraschino cherries into it but then hardened to a white, opaque shell. The fondant would stay hard, white, and opaque forever (which would make for a really unsatisfying chocolate-covered cherry experience) except . . . for the secret.

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Shhh . . . come closer.

The secret is invertase.

Invertase is an enzyme that changes sugar to liquid or, in plain terms, it “catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose.”

A tiny bit of invertase, added to the fondant, will turn that hard, white, opaque shell to sweet, sticky syrup, syrup to dribble down your chin as you gobble one cherry cordial after another.

The switchover from solid to liquid is a bit of a delayed reaction. I had plenty of time to dip the cherries into the fondant, let the fondant harden, temper the chocolate, and dip the cherries into the chocolate before the transformation began.

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In fact, my recipe for these candies says that the cherries will need to sit for 10 days to allow the magic to happen.

Luckily for me, and my burning desire to start snacking, the change really occurs much more quickly than that. Within a half hour of dipping the chocolates, I could start to see a bit of sugar syrup oozing, already, out of a tiny break in the chocolate shell.

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Abracadabra! Magic in the making!

And it continues. By the Christmas Eve party, I should have a couple of dozen chocolate-covered cherries to take along, to fulfill my promise.

I would never make these candies to sell. Making the fondant is too unpredictable, at least for me. In honesty, I screwed up the first batch I made last week and had to start all over again!

The process is even more laborious than other candy making with more waste, since even a tiny air bubble in the chocolate shell will become a weak spot from which the syrup will ooze. Trust me, if you end up with a syrup-less cherry in an empty chocolate shell, it simply isn’t magic any more.

And, while leaving the stems on the cherries, those sweet little handles, makes dipping the cherries so easy, it makes packaging the finished candy impossible—just ask the people who have, in the past, received ooey-gooey packages of exploded candy in the mail from me.

This was candy making simply for pleasure and that’s its own kind of magic. It was nice to make candy just for the fun of it, just for the challenge, with little pressure, and to make people happy. And it gave me the opportunity to share this particular secret of the universe with you.

But, remember—it’s a secret. Just between you and me.

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I’ve Got Rhythms

metronomeDo your days have a rhythm? Is there a predictable tempo to your hours? Or are your days spontaneous and varied dances of delight?

At this time of year, my days have an undeniable rhythm, a driving tempo. Much of the day is filled with an insistent, relentless beat, as I work to make the candy I sell.

The winter holidays bring busy times—people are willing to splurge on handmade candies for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for gifts, for parties—so I’m always pretty busy in November.

But this year, I’m also doing two holiday boutiques, two selling shows, where people walk by my table, taste a sample of chocolate, and buy.

Last summer, when I agreed to these shows, on two consecutive days in early December, it seemed like a great idea!

Right now, I can’t help but wonder what I was thinking. I know people will want to buy candy but I can’t predict just exactly which candy they will want or how much to have on hand.

So, I spend my days piling boxes of chocolates up, and working obsessively to make more. The tempos of my life right now are staccato, presto, agitato.

But not first thing in the morning. I am committed to start my day, early, early, at a different pace—this is the calm before the candy.

I am an early riser, usually up by 4:30. I have my ritual to begin my day. It is set to adagio and, certainly, pianissimo.

I feed the cats. I give the diabetic cat an injection. I make a cup of coffee, black. I visit a set list of websites, in a set order—NBC News, the National Weather Service, the local newspaper. I write in my personal journal and have another cup of coffee, black.

I take some time to visit with you, to see what you’re saying and doing. I read your thoughts and respond, as much as possible, before the rhythm changes and the day demands my participation.

I love the calm before the candy. My husband sleeps a few rooms away. The cats go back to bed, too. I am alone with my thoughts.

I plan what needs to be done, and everything seems possible! I know I can get so much accomplished because the day stretches out in front of me, full of open hours and promise.

About 6:00, the rhythm switches to accelerato, allegro, animato. If, by this time, I haven’t taken a shower, written a blog post, finished reading yours, it probably won’t get done today.

The chaos of the candy takes over, the cacophony, the movement toward crescendo.

Happily, for me, this fast-paced rhythm lasts only for a month or two. January will bring a quieter time, slower tempos, with fewer demands for quick-step dancing in the kitchen.

I’ll return to the rocking rhythm of hand quilting, the soothing back and forth of throwing the shuttle, and the warm, comforting slide of the iron over vintage linens. I may even fit in a spontaneous dance of delight or two!

I’ll have more time for me, then, and for you.

A Day in the Life of a Chocolatier

irish cream meltA chocolatier. That’s me—it sounds pretty glamorous, doesn’t it?

It sounds glamorous if, when you read that word, you pronounce it in your head as “cha-ko-la-tee-ay,” with French verve. If you pronounce it in your head to rhyme with “musketeer,” it just sounds like I should be hanging out with my pal, D’Artagnan.

Most of the time I just tell people that I make candy.

These days, most of my waking hours are filled with candy—either the actual making of it or any of the other activities that go along with its selling. It isn’t especially glamorous, or difficult, for that matter.

In fact, it’s like all of the other crafts that you and I do—there’s a process involved and skills to master. Some aspects are mindless and repetitive aspects, but rather soothing. Some aspects I don’t especially care for. Other aspects are fun and creative, and keep me coming back.

I don’t make candy to make a living. I make candy because I like to make candy, just as I like to quilt and I like to weave. But, unlike quilting and weaving, candy piles up fast and that can cause its own dilemmas. I sell candy so I can justify making more, to experiment and try new things, without having to eat it all myself.

I’ve had glimpses of what goes on in a small, but commercial, bricks-and-mortar candy shop. Even small places have huge vats of chocolate that is tempered by machine. They have conveyor belts that bring candies under a stream of chocolate to enrobe them. One shop even had a spray (think of the spray nozzle at your kitchen sink) through which they could deliver chocolate over popcorn—so cool!

My operation is very different. At times, I may be making candy to fill one order from my Etsy shop—just one small pan of caramels or gianduja. At other times, like right now, I’m working on a slightly larger scale because I’m getting ready for a show where I sell candy face-to-face and may need a total of, say, 250 or 300 boxes of chocolates.

Almost every candy I make is a multi-stage process so, when I’m making a lot of candies, my days will be organized around the steps. Some days will be focused on making the “innards,” as I think of them, and other days will focus on enrobing, or dipping, the candy innards in chocolate.

When I make the innards, I work in small batches, and usually produce 50 to 200 candies at a time.

I make lots of caramels, which are the most time consuming of the innards. The pan of caramels takes about 2 hours to cook, and I need to pay attention but I can walk away from it if I have to. Other processes go quickly—English toffee, for instance, takes only about 15 minutes to cook and spread in the pan—but I have to be super attentive or end up with a scorched, nasty mess.

Making any of the innards depends on paying careful attention to temperature, so using a candy thermometer is essential. And, since I’ve never met a candy thermometer that I felt I could really, really trust, I also use the old tried-and-true cold-water test.

The cold-water test is based on the principle that cooked candy will react in predictable ways when spooned into ice water. For instance, if I spoon a little caramel into ice water and wait a few seconds, I want the caramel to form a fairly firm ball in my fingers when I pick it up. Other concoctions behave differently. There’s some experience and judgment that factors into this but it’s a time-honored and reliable way to judge readiness.

Once the candy is cooked and has cooled, I have to cut it. This is kind of a drag. If I were ever going to try to get bigger as a candy maker (and I’m not!), I’d want a gizmo called a guitar. The guitar is composed of a frame with taut strings set at intervals, which can be pressed down on a slab of candy to cut it. A home-based candy maker is more likely to use a big knife, maybe lightly oiled, and use either a ruler or cut the pieces by eye. I think it’s charming when the candies vary a little in size, don’t you?

The next step is the critical one that makes me a chocolatier—tempering chocolate. Some people who make candy use melted chocolate chips, a little bit of chocolate but lots of other stuff, too. Others use the so-called “candy melts,” which, you may notice, don’t claim to be chocolate at all, because they aren’t!

Anyone who wants to make really good candy learns to temper chocolate. To read about this, you might think it’s some sort of magical, mystery process but it’s pretty straightforward, kind of time-consuming, and just takes practice to get it right.

What is it? Tempering chocolate means melting quality, real chocolate and then cooling it in a controlled way to bring about a transformation of the chocolate. Some people temper chocolate on a marble slab and others do it with a technique called “seeding,” or adding unmelted chocolate to the melted in a particular way.

The desired outcome is the same. One tempers chocolate so that it will set without being refrigerated, it will stay set at room temperature, it will set with a high gloss, and it will have the “snap” that we expect in excellent chocolate. When you dip candy innards into tempered chocolate, it coats them easily and smoothly and the extra sort of cascades off, to leave a thin shell, smooth and shiny.

Untempered chocolate will look dull, often have streaks or a grainy texture, and will be difficult to use. It won’t ever set, unless refrigerated, and will start to melt again at room temperature. If you dip candy into it, it may lump up, and stay thick and coarse. Why bother with chocolate at all, if it is going to be so unappetizing?!

I have considered buying a tempering machine designed for home use, which would bring melted chocolate to the necessary temperatures and hold it there and, in theory, save me some trouble. But, try as I have, I‘ve never found one that gets good reviews from users and, for the $1000 I’d need to spend, I’d want it to make my life easier!

So, I spend a lot of time tempering chocolate by hand. I may temper 3 pounds at a time. I melt the chocolate to specific temperatures, depending on whether it’s dark, milk, or white chocolate, and then bring those temperatures down again. It takes about 30 minutes of constant stirring to temper chocolate, and it can’t be rushed.

Dipping or enrobing the innards comes next—this is one of my favorite parts! Sometimes I use a ladle to slather chocolate on bigger items. Sometimes I use a mold. Mostly I use a special little fork and a big bowl of tempered chocolate, and dip the candies one by one.

I get all set up and then I get in the zone.

I put my bowl of tempered chocolate on a heating pad, to keep it at the right temperature so it doesn’t lose its temper (because that causes me to lose mine!) I get all organized with any garnishes and my other tools, and I dip, tap, tap, tap.

I put one piece candy in the chocolate, turn it with the fork, scoop it up, slide it across the edge of the bowl and tap, tap, tap to remove the excess chocolate (according to a watchful friend, I tap about 12-14 times per piece). Then I slide it onto parchment paper.

Then I do another. And another. I stop after about 5 candies and either make my perfect swirl (the easiest trick in candy making!) or add garnishes. Either of these things needs to be done before the chocolate starts to set, which explains having to stop dipping frequently. I stop after every 20 or 30 candies to stir and check the temperature of the chocolate and adjust my heating pad, if necessary.

While I dip my little chocolates, I think deep thoughts. What in the world can I blog about next? How long before I can eat lunch? What will I eat for lunch? How in world did I get chocolate there?

Once I have all the candies enrobed and the chocolate has set completely, and I’ve cleaned up my mess and licked the spoon and my bowl, I trim the candy to remove excess chocolate around the foot.

The only task left is to package the candy. This is probably my least favorite part of the process but it has to be done!

I weigh out the candies, then I put them in little candy paper cups. I arrange them in the glossy white box and make sure they look pretty. I label the box. I seal the box with my little “KerryCan” sticker. I move on to the next box. The boxes pile up in a most satisfying way.

Candy making, as you can see, is a lot like knitting or quilting or writing a blog post—lots of persnickety details, some more fun than others. It gets easier to do effectively when you do it regularly. It involves some skill and technique but even more simple concentration and attention to detail.

The outcome may not be glamorous but it is always pleasing and, when others see your work and tell you they love what you’ve created, it feels pretty fine!