January 8th is recognized as National English Toffee Day celebrating a favorite treat that’s been enjoyed for generations; in fact it came to be during the 1800’s. The Oxford English Dictionary first mentioned the word “toffee”in 1825.
My love of toffee began back in the late 1950’s when my grandmother brought some home from Fannie Mae, which was right next door to where she worked. I thought that was the best toffee ever until I tasted the toffee made by the mother of my dear friend Missie in high school. Missie’s mom Clarice would make a tin just for me every Christmas.
In a 1988 article written by William Rice of the Chicago Tribune, he introduced yet another English toffee that I could add to my toffee file. It was a recipe for “chocolate-covered burnt almond toffee” developed by a local woman named Katherine, who at seventy-seven years old had been making it for decades. Even though she received raves from family, friends, and her reading group, it never occurred to her to market her delicious confection. Her son decided one day to take some to the local Farmer’s Market, a beauty salon, and a Hallmark store. Every piece sold, and then a popular grocery store requested some to sell. In 1985, the toffee eventually made it to a national specialty foods trade show in Atlanta where it was awarded “Best Domestic Candy.” This led to television spots, where “Katherine’s Own Toffee” took off nationwide.
Thanks to the article in the Chicago Tribune that printed Katherine’s original recipe, I can now share it with you. It’s so incredibly good, but remember to follow it exactly as printed with added notes from Katherine, or it won’t work. I have been making it for years and never had a fail. I also have learned, first from Clarice and now Katherine, to pay it forward and give the toffee away as gifts. Believe me, it makes people happy!
- 1 pound lightly salted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup slivered raw almonds
- 12 ounces chocolate (Katherine uses a combination of 4 ounces Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate squares and 8 ounces of Baker's Semisweet Chocolate squares)
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans *
- Note: Katherine says the recipe will fail if margarine or unsalted butter is used, or if sliced almonds are substituted for slivered. Believe her.
- * This is my personal note: Instead of chopped pecans, I sometimes like to use ground pecans as seen in the photo. Both work.
- Have a buttered baking sheet about 12-by-18-by-1/4-inch prepared and set aside before starting the toffee. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Slowly add the sugar, stirring constantly until it dissolves. Do not stir in a circle. Instead, turn the mixture over as you stir to help the butter absorb the sugar.
- Add the almonds. Stir in the same manner until mixture reaches the hard-crack stage (300 degrees F on a candy thermometer. The color should be dark amber and puffs of steam will emerge as it is stirred. (This could take from 35 to 45 minutes of constant stirring. The almonds will look a little burnt but that's what you want. Also, do not panic if before you reach the desired temperature the mixture seems to separate. Just keep stirring and eventually it will return to smoothness.)
- In the meantime, place the chocolates in the top of a double boiler over gently simmering water and stir occasionally to melt. (I have this all ready to go and on the stovetop next to the toffee pan to make it easier to stir)
- When the toffee is ready, pour it onto the prepared baking sheet and quickly spread it to even out the toffee. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then pour on the melted chocolate and spread evenly.
- Sprinkle evenly with the chopped pecans on top of chocolate. Very gently press the nuts into the chocolate using the bottom of a glass. (I do this if using ground pecans too)
- Allow toffee to harden without covering pan for 8 hours or overnight. Break toffee into pieces with your hands. Store in an airtight container in a cool place. Makes about 3 pounds.