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Melted Sugar: Toffee and Caramels

December 23, 2009

Here is another old Christmas picture of me and my little brothers! I am 7 years old here... I think by this time I had figured out the Santa Claus story.

It is Christmas Eve.

I had huge blogging ambitions for December. I was going to carefully document every holiday recipe I made and share them with you all so you could have a Martha Stewart Christmas. But of course, nobody ever has Martha Stewart Christmases in real life, so it seems my idea was destined to fail. Either way, here I am, finally showing you some of the candies and sweets I made.

I made a slew of different candies: caramels, toffee, turtles, and buckeyes. As for cookies, there were mocha nut balls (which turned out not so ball-y), chocolate chip cookies, and sugar cookies decorated with my niece. And for the grand finale, two huge loaves of Christstollen mit Marzipan.

The first recipe I’m sharing with you is the easiest. It’s English toffee! I found the recipe while digging through a stack of old cookbooks in a cabinet in my house. It’s written in my mom’s handwriting, but she claims the recipe is actually her first mother-in-law’s. Thus, it’s at least 30 years old, if not older!

English Toffee

Prep time: 5 minutes     Cook time: 30 minutes


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup / 2 sticks / 1/2lb / 225g butter
  • 1 Tablespoon white corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 4oz dark chocolate, chopped

Materials needed:

  • candy thermometer
  • large, heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • wooden spoon
  • large cake pan or sheet pan with sides

Not quite done - 60 degrees left to go!


  • Chop the pecans and chocolate. Spread the pecans on the bottom of a 9 x 13in cake pan.
  • In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches hard crack stage (300-310F/ 149-154C). Mixture will be think, brown, and bubbly.
  • Pour the caramelized mixture over the pecans. Tilt pan to evenly distribute (careful, the pan might be hot).
  • Sprinkle the chopped chocolate over top the toffee mixture while still hot. Once the chocolate melts, spread it out with a spatula.
  • Once the candy has cooled – and it doesn’t take long – break by sticking a knife into it. It should just sort of shatter.

I don’t know about y’all, but my city in the Midwest is recently smitten by salted caramels. I looooove salted caramels, but it seems nobody ever does them right. They just taste like regular caramels to me, usually. And don’t even get me started on salted caramels that have been dipped in chocolate. What’s the point? Sometimes a girl gets sick of chocolate. Usually my mom and I make our own caramels, but they are just regular ol’ caramels, not salted caramels. We decided to try something new this year. But don’t worry! I still wrapped them all by hand!

Salted Caramels – the recipe is here (Sorry, but I can’t be bothered to re-type a recipe I followed step-by-step!)

This recipe is a little more difficult because you have to caramelize the sugar and corn syrup together first, then add cream and butter, and stir until it reaches the right temperature. If you follow me on Twitter (@tisenfine, btws) then you might have noticed a few weeks ago I was not just melting sugar, but burning it. I think the key is a combination of patience and instinct. Patience because it takes awhile and you can’t stir the melting, bubbling sugar (there is science involved); instinct for knowing JUST when to take it off the heat.

These are pictures I took of various points along the way to caramelization. The top left picture is when I had just thrown the sugar, water, and corn syrup together in a pan. The top right picture shows it after a few minutes of boiling – it’s bubbly like pop or something. But I can tell you from experience, those bubbles are really hot (what is it about cooking that compels me to carry through every harebrained idea I have while cooking?!). The bottom left picture shows it starting to change color a little. And the bottom right picture is almost done – just another 30 seconds and it will be perfectly caramelized!

Then after you caramelize the sugars, you add the butter/cream/salt that was warming in a smaller pan while the whole big shebang was going on. This is like a goddamn science experiment: when you add the two, the whole mixture will bubble up violently. I mean, violently. I advise not putting your face near the pan and standing back as far as you can while still being able to stir.

You have to cook this whole sugar/butter/cream mixture for a long time in order to bring it up to the firm ball stage, which is 245-250F/ 118-121C. I always also do the cold-water test to make sure it’s doing what I want it to do. Courtney, this is what I was referring to when I was talking about being badass. It is really fun to do this, and then fish out the cooled caramel and taste a little of it.

Then I pour the caramel out into a foil-lined, greased square pan. This part is important; do not listen to your mom when she says you can just butter the pan. You will spend 15 minutes trying to pry it out of the pan, and telling your mom to go into the other room because you are getting frustrated and angry. Not AT her – Mom, I was not angry at you, I just did not want to have to wrestle with a glass pyrex dish with all that sugar and butter I had talked to so lovingly while waiting to caramelize and get to the right temperature. I was having visions of having to toss out the whole batch and start over again.

After all that, then you have to cut up this whole pan of caramels. You need a good, sharp knife. It takes awhile. Then, you wrap all the little caramels individually in little pieces of wax paper, twist the ends, and…

… everyone just unwraps them and pops them in their mouths! But they are so delicious, and we do it for the people we love, so it doesn’t matter how long it took to make them!

Merry Christmas!

(and if you don’t celebrate Christmas – enjoy your 4-day weekend!)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. camilia permalink
    December 24, 2009 12:50

    I don’t celebrate Christmas and I don’t have holidays but thanks :p

    Looks delicious, keep up the good work 🙂

  2. boss luar biasa permalink
    December 28, 2009 11:49

    Happy New Year 2010!

  3. March 25, 2010 09:09

    I just wish I had the patience to do these brilliant sweeties. My favourite part of cooking is making the pudding whether its fruit cake or of course chocolate cake.

    But if it takes longer than an hour and there are fiddly preps then I just can’t do it 😦

    Great blog btw


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