Scrap Happy Sweets

I have so much baking to do. Many, many cookies, to please the different members of the family this holiday, and to please myself.

And my sister and husband want turtle bark, with dark chocolate, caramel, pecans and fleur de sea.

But these all have to wait. I don’t have the ingredients on hand. Oh, I have the butter and the sugar and the vanilla . . . those scraps of ingredients we all have in our kitchens.

But what can I make from those scraps, while I wait for my personal shopper (Don!) to make a trip to the grocery store?

Only possibly the best Christmas candy of all—English toffee.

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It’s 6:30 a.m. at my place and the house smells great—all buttery and caramel-y, with slight burnt overtones. 

I’ve written about my toffee before, and given the recipe I use, so I won’t go through it all again here but, if you’re looking for a culinary scrap happy project, this might be the answer.

Ingredients? Butter, sugar, water, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt, for the basic toffee. For the coating, some sort of chocolate you really like. I temper Callebaut chocolate (which, yes, I always seem to have on hand) but quality chocolate melts or chips work fine, too. 

Want nuts? What have you got lying around? Almonds, walnuts, pecans? No nuts? The toffee is so good, you won’t miss them.

Really, the biggest scrap you’ll need for making toffee is a scrap of patience, since you need to be willing to continuously stir the cooking ingredients for 20-25 minutes, the time it’ll take to reach 300 degrees F.

But it is so worth it! No scraps will make you happier than these!

So, when you’ve used up the scraps of yarn and fabric and pretty paper and glitter, wander to the pantry—and find the sweet scraps for toffee.

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ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page. She welcomes new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let Kate or Gun know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so they can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, JanKaren,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen and Connie

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Advent, My Way #16

IMG_4003Christmas candy.

Christmas and candy.

Candy and Christmas.

For good or ill, Christmas and candy will forever be associated in my mind.

When I was small, my grandmother made her homemade caramels only at Christmastime. We kids all loved those caramels and were more than happy to help with the chore of wrapping each one in a small square of waxed paper. We knew that sampling and tasting and snitching would be part of the game.

By the time I was in graduate school and then working my first job, I was making the Christmas caramels. I had my grandmother’s recipe and a lot of sentiment, and no candy-making experience.

Because the recipe said to add the butter “bit by bit” and the milk “drop by drop,” I did just that. Because I was afraid of burning the mix or letting it go too long and get too hard, I cooked the syrup VERY slowly and believed I had to stir constantly.

For three hours or more.

I would sit on a kitchen stool, next to the stove, and stir. I would try to avoid splatters of hot caramel falling on my skin—there’s no worse burn in the world! I would attempt to read while I stirred but was so tense about something going wrong that mostly I just obsessed.

Then, about 7 years ago, I decided I wanted to dip those caramels in chocolate—doesn’t that sound so good? I bought a book about candy making, found that tempering chocolate isn’t so hard and that dipping the caramels got easier with practice. And they were so good!

Well! Then I wanted to make all kinds of other candies and I started experimenting and having fun. When I retired, I decided that I needed to find an outlet for all the candy I was making—we couldn’t eat all of it, for heaven’s sake—so I began to sell candy on Etsy.

When I did that, Christmastime became, fully and intensely, candy season! I would sell odds and ends of candy from October through April but from mid-November until a week before Christmas, all I did was make candy.

I was buying a dozen huge 11-pounds bars of chocolate at a time. I had caramel making down to a near-science and had gotten a lot more sanguine about the process. I figured out I could double the batch and make about 400 caramels at a time, and it sure didn’t take three hours any more!

I made candy, I cut candy. I dipped candy pieces in chocolate. I chopped nuts and candy canes and dried fruits. I put all those little candies in little candy cups, put the candy cups in boxes, and put the boxes in bigger shipping boxes. I made address labels and return address labels and then begged my husband to drive to the post office.

So I could stay home and make more candy.

Sometimes, a good thing can go too far.

It was a lot of fun to make candy and I found it very gratifying that people loved it, this endeavor that all started with my grandmother’s caramels. Her caramels were my most popular items and I felt that validated her worth and honored her memory.

But for 5 years, Christmas was pretty much entirely about making candy.

We would fit in buying a wreath and getting those Santas out, to line up along the mantel, but I had no more time to think about our Christmas because I needed to make candy. Christmas was tense.

I’ve kept a journal for years and when I go back and read my entries from the last few Christmases, it’s apparent that mostly I just wanted the season to be over. Because I was tired and stressed and sick to death of chocolate, I wanted Christmas behind me.

Things are so different this year!

I made a decision that I was ready to limit the kinds of candy I make and stop doing holiday boutiques and stop promoting the Etsy shop. I have been offering candy on Etsy, in a minimal way, getting sales, but it’s all much mellower than it had been.

One of the things I no longer offer to customers, because of the time involved in making them, is my grandmother’s caramels. I haven’t made caramels this Christmas for the first time in probably 35 years.

That makes me a little sad but the year off will do me good. Already, I am enjoying this season more than I have in years because I have simply had the time to do things other than churn out more candy.

By next year, my intention is to be out of the candy-making business altogether. Then I will be able to make candy for fun again, to make the kinds that I like to make and that my family and friends like best.

Next year at Christmas, you will find me making caramels simply for the nostalgic pleasure of reliving happy moments from my childhood and honoring my grandmother’s memory.

And Christmas can be Christmas again.

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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