Thursday, December 22, 2016

Crazy Easy English Toffee

Our time living at the lake was a unique time for both the Chef and myself. West Central Iowa was a kind of crazy mix of hometown mom and pop cafes and upscale lake resort restaurants, hole in the wall taverns with killer pizza and authentic Mexican restaurants bustling with regular customers. Some of the best hand-breaded tenderloins you could ever taste are served up in these small towns, and on the reverse end of the spectrum quaint little tea rooms with incredibly delicious homemade cheesecakes and daily lunch specials take you back in time. The coffeehouse craze extends to small town Iowa as well and many of these towns have coffee shops that make Starbucks look amateur.

Right up the road from the little lake house is the teeny town of Dexter. Blink and you'll miss it kind of small, home to a well known steak restaurant, an American Legion hall, and a gas station/convenience store/pizza shop. Typical of rural Iowa, not a whole lot going on in the gourmet world here, unless you make it all the way to the western edge of town and a small sign happens to catch your eye as you travel- Drew's Chocolates. Drew's has been in business since 1927 and in all these years not much has changed. Certainly not the quality, the attention to detail and the love the owners put into each hand-dipped chocolate. Drew's is the real deal folks. The shop is in the basement of their home. The teeny tiny showcase and sales area is cozy and welcoming and the fragrance of luscious treats envelopes you. 

They use the same chocolate tempering machine they have used since the beginning and dip each piece of candy with the same dipping fork they have always used. The same recipes. The caramels are so creamy and perfect. So are the fruit creams, nuts, all kinds of nuts dipped by hand into that creamy chocolate, and the toffee- the best English toffee you will ever have. For real, the best. Perfect little rectangles of buttery crunchy almondy happiness covered in milk or dark chocolate will definitely bring a smile to your face.

I don't get out that way very often anymore and I do really miss stopping in and getting a small box for a special treat. Here in the city there are lots of options for candies but none are quite as good or anywhere near as dear to my heart as Drew's. 

As a baker I often feel the pull to expand my skill set and learn to work with candies more frequently. Since the creation of Pinterest candy recipes, such as fudge, are a dime a dozen and get easier by the day. No more boiling pots of chocolate and sugar to soft ball stage and beating by hand to just the right consistency. Now it's a matter of opening a can of sweetened condensed milk and melting with some chocolate chips. Add nuts. Done. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious, and blissfully easy. I remember my late mother in law making divinity every year at the holidays. She carefully beat those egg whites and cooked that syrup until the exact temperature was reached and then combined them into fluffy clouds with never a mistake. Today? Jello. Use Jello. "Perfect No Fail Divinity." Heck I have even found a recipe for making caramels in the microwave!

Buried in a drawer full of utensils in my kitchen there is a candy thermometer hiding somewhere. I know it's there. I've used it. I just haven't seen it in a long time. Making English toffee is my assigned task this week and I figured I would need to dig until I found it or go buy a new one. Daughter in law to the rescue! We had our family baking day planned and she was going to make some English toffee and had a foolproof recipe that you can make without the thermometer! I am saved! Janelle's toffee recipe is crazy easy and makes a good sized batch- enough to split among our four homes. This is quick to put together and doesn't require any hard to find ingredients. 

Be sure and use REAL BUTTER and only real butter for this recipe. Margarine will not work! Margarine is mostly water and you will never get the toffee to reach the correct consistency. This toffee is crispy and crunchy and so so good. 

Crazy Easy English Toffee

1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped toasted nuts*

*Pecans, almonds, walnuts are all delicious in this recipe.

Prepare a large baking sheet by lining with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter. Add the sugar, vanilla and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick and very dark amber color. If you use a candy thermometer you want to shoot for 285 degrees. 

Pour toffee mixture onto parchment lined sheet and shake pan to spread the toffee out. Immediately sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Let sit for two minutes, then spread the chocolate evenly over the top with a spatula. Sprinkle with nuts.

Chill for one hour, then break into bite sized pieces.

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