English Toffee

by editor on November 30, 2010

English Toffee without corn syrup

There’s much to love about this festive time of year, not least that it represents a moratorium on the butter and sugar police! Made with three sticks of butter and a pound of chocolate this crunchy candy is unapologetically rich and easily demolished – even by those who swear they will expire if they nibble more than a tiny piece.

Salty, sweet and buttery and blanketed in a contrasting layer of smooth dark, barely sweet chocolate, the name belies its American popularity. Deceptively easy and quick to make – especially after you’ve prepared it once – it makes a lovely last minute hostess or holiday gift. If you are so inclined, you can skip the nuts and sprinkle the chocolate with crushed graham crackers, or use shards of toffee to garnish caramel/chocolate desserts (as you will see in my next post!) There’s also no corn syrup in this version which I’m pretty sure makes it slightly healthy…

A note on the chocolate – if you want a perfectly glossy layer of chocolate you should temper the chocolate coverture before spreading over the toffee. I usually skip this step if I’m not giving it as a gift and don’t need it to be visually perfect. Tempering also increases the melting point of the chocolate and gives it a crisper, cleaner “snap”. More on tempering chocolate here, and on chocolate coverture here.

(Rather ironically, I was inspired to make this dairy laden treat by a vegan version. There’s a lovely little store in the Phinney neighborhood of Seattle called The Chocolate Shoebox that sells stylish vegan shoes and chocolate. I crave their vegan English toffee that’s made with coconut milk instead of vegan margarine, and I’d love to figure out how they make it!)

English Toffee
Makes one 8 x 11 pan | Adapted from a recipe by Chef Eddy Van Damme

3 sticks / 12oz / 360g unsalted butter
1 ½ / 12oz / 360g cups bakers sugar
½ tsp fleur de sel
2 tsp vanilla extract
11lb / 450g dark chocolate coverture (1/2 lb or 225g if you only plan to cover one side with chocolate)
1 cup/ toasted pistachios, chopped or finely chopped almonds

Special Equipment
Candy thermometer

Place Silpat on 8×11 baking sheet. The silpat is your friend in this exercise. The last thing you want to worry about is sticking or peeling other lining materials off a slab of brittle toffee. If you don’t have a Silpat, you can line the baking sheet with some generously greased baking parchment.

Place butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Place candy thermometer in pan, and stir mixture slowly and continuously until it reaches 292F or 144C. Remove from heat as soon as mixture hits this temperature to avoid overcooking.

Working quickly, pour mixture onto prepared Silpat or buttered pan. Spread with heatproof spatula until entire pan is covered and toffee is of an even thickness. Set aside to cool.

If you want the chocolate coating to look shiny and pristine, temper the chocolate before using. I normally skip this step if I’m making it for non-gift giving occasions! Otherwise, melt the chocolate using a double boiler or in the microwave.

Use a paper towel to blot up excess oil/moisture on the surface of the toffee, which can prevent the chocolate from sticking. Spread half of the melted chocolate or tempered chocolate over the toffee, smoothing with a spatula.

Set aside until chocolate has set all over. Carefully flip sheet of toffee over, and spread the remaining chocolate or tempered chocolate all over the other side. Sprinkle with nuts if desired.

Set aside until second chocolate coating has set. Break into pieces to serve, or wrap in glassine bags tied with ribbons or pretty boxes for gift giving. Store in an airtight container for several days (refrigerate if the chocolate is untempered), if you can restrain yourself for that long…


St Germain Elderflower Marshmallows

by editor on July 2, 2010

St Germain Elderflower Marshmallows

The delicately fruity and barely floral taste of elderflowers used to feel like a special secret flavor I shared with, oh, most of the European continent. The elderflower aka the sambucus, is a verstatile ingredient that is used in wines, liqueurs, presses, syrups, and amazing Piedmontese deep-fried umbels – you can even buy the syrup at IKEA. I’m mostly thrilled that elderflower is now well and truly discovered, and with the popularity of St Germain liqueur, this summery flavor is starring on cocktail menus far and wide and is rapidly finagling its way onto more innovative dessert menus across the land. Since I’ve been experimenting with alcohol-tinged marshmallows of late, I decided to see how the summery flavor of St Germain translated into foamy candy form, and the results were pleasingly refreshing.

Marshmallow Batter on Beater

Originally an Ancient Egyptian food made with honey, these billowy puffs of smooth elderflower marshmallows are wonderful with any kind of strawberry dessert – perhaps cut into shapes with oiled cookie cutters and floated atop a chilled strawberry soup. A twisted guimauve of strawberry and elderflower also sounds like a heavenly combination for a future project. There are many variations of the basic marshmallow recipe with and without egg whites, gelatin and corn syrup. Even Thomas Keller uses corn syrup his French Laundry marshmallows, but if you prefer to avoid it, you can use Steens syrup or make your own cane syrup.

Something to watch for is overcooking the sugar mixture which I did after getting distracted the first time I made these, although I did end up with some really unusual and delicious Elderflower Laffy Taffy on my hands. Besides my accidental foray into molecular gastronomy, this delicate confection is very simple and gratifying to make, and once you start experimenting with flavors it’s very hard to stop.

St Germain Elderflower Marshmallows
Adapted from recipes by Eileen Talanian, Thomas Keller and David Lebovitz. | Makes 20 to 40 marshmallows, depending on size.

For the Marshmallows
3 envelopes or 3 tbsp unflavored gelatin (we used Knox brand)
2/3 cup St Germain or elderflower syrup (such as Belvoir)
½ cup water
1 cup light corn syrup or cane syrup (such as Steens or a homemade version)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ cups granulated cane sugar (ensure the package explicitly says cane – beet sugar affects the recipe chemistry)

For the Coating
Confectioner’s Sugar or Powdered Strawberry, for a delicious variation.

Special Equipment

One 8×12 pan, or two 8×12 pans if you are planning on cutting them into shapes for a garnish or dessert, so the marshmallow sheet is half as thick.

Candy Thermometer

A stand mixer – unless you have a very strong arm and don’t mind burning out your hand mixer!

Prepare pans by spraying with oil and wiping off the excess with a paper towel. Sift a generous amount of confectioner’s sugar over the bottom and sides of the pan, then cover and set aside. (Make sure your pans are prepared before you begin whipping the batter – you won’t have time to waste once the marshmallow batter is done.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, manually whisk together the gelatin and the St Germain, and set aside.

In a small, high sided pan, stir together the water, syrup, salt and sugar. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase heat to high, and cook until temperature reaches 240F on a candy thermometer – do not stir, and watch closely to avoid scorching. Remove pan from heat.

With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the sugar mixture into the mixer bowl. Increase the speed of the mixer to medium, then high, and whisk for approximately 15 minutes, or until batter is very thick and fluffy.

As soon as the mixture looks ready, pour into prepared pan(s). Be sure to work quickly – now is not the time to worry about scraping every last morsel of batter off the beater or you will regret it as you wrestle with a sticky mess!

Using a wet offset spatula, or wet hands, smooth the batter into an even layer, and allow the marshmallow to dry overnight. Cut into pieces with sharp scissors or a large, sharp pizza cutter, and dredge with more confectioner’s sugar.

Notes: Marshmallow batter is extremely sticky and sets up fast. It’s all soluble in hot water though, so it’s much easier to clean up than most other project involving sugar thermometers!

I haven’t tried this recipe with agar substituted for the gelatin yet, but will update the post with my findings once I do!