Toffee is probably my favorite thing to eat, period. It's crunchy and delicious and completely addictive. My mom always made it at Christmas (and only at Christmas), and I looked forward to it all year. I still do. Only now I've learned how to make it myself. Growing up, I thought that making toffee was extremely difficult and messy. Turns out, it extremely quick and easy (takes about half an hour). But since toffee is just caramelized butter and sugar, it's really Really unhealthy. But oh it's soooo gooooood.
Here's how to make your own toffee. I usually use a candy thermometer, but you don't have to.
Before you start, line a large baking sheet (or a 16" pizza pan, if you're me) with parchment paper (you can do this while the toffee is cooking if you forget beforehand). Then put four sticks (2 cups) of salted butter (this is critical) and 2 cups of sugar in a large (2 quart, I think) saucepan over medium heat. Stir it together as the butter melts. The candy thermometer is optional. When everything melts together, add 1 tsp. of vanilla.
Keep stirring pretty often once the mixture gets bubbly.
Keep stirring, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Scorched toffee doesn't taste good. As the temperature approaches 250 degrees or so, the mixture will thicken and the color will start to deepen into a nice caramel shade. It also starts to smell like caramel.
You're aiming for the "soft crack" stage of candy making, which is 285-290 degrees F. Some people can tell when the toffee is ready to pour just by the color (a little darker than the photo above) and the smell. I turn off the heat when the toffee reaches 285 degrees (it gets a little hotter than that by the time I pour it). I keep a little piece of parchment paper next to the stove to place the thermometer on while I pour the toffee.
Use your spoon to spread the hot toffee into a thin layer over your pan. Then pile on some chocolate chips (1 to 1 1/2 cups). I like semi-sweet Ghirardelli chips, but you can use whatever you like.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the melted chocolate all over the top of the toffee. You could also sprinkle some sliced almonds over the chocolate while it's still gooey, which is delicious, but I didn't have any almonds, so this batch of toffee just got chocolate topping.
Pro tip: everything sets faster in the fridge. I let the pan cool on the stove or counter for about 15 minutes then pop the whole thing in the fridge (use a towel or potholder - the pan is going to be HOT). Once it's set, break the toffee into small pieces and store at room temp in an airtight container (like a cute Christmas tin).
If you soak your pot, spoon, and thermometer overnight, clean-up is easy, too.
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