Thursday, 3 November 2011

Bonfire toffee

You wait six months for a festival, then two come along in one week (much like Mealtime Meltdown blog posts… ahem…). Hot on the heels of Hallowe’en* comes Bonfire Night** at the weekend, so you’ll be needing a treacle toffee recipe, won’t you?

This one, copied unashamedly from the wonderful Allrecipes makes the most decadently, darkly, richly glossy (I’d like my hair to be this colour) sticky, chewy, buttery, autumnal, woodsmokey, complex-flavoured toffee. Children and first timers are surprised when they first taste it (but usually come back for more), adults often get a nostalgic look in their eyes (and usually come back for more).

The original recipe, which you can find here, contains dire warnings about not stirring the mixture lest sugar crystals form, but I can honestly say I’ve made this recipe several times and never had this problem. And I’m fairly devil-may-care when it comes to stirring. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

But I would second their advice to use a nice, large pan (the mixture will almost double in volume as it bubbles up and boils) with a heavy base.

*It’s not a tacky US import; folks over this side of the pond have been fashioning lanterns out of vegetables for centuries. True, the pumpkin itself is a recent arrival, but it’s one that I, for one, applaud. Do you have any idea how hard it is to carve a turnip?)

**Which is absolutely unarguably a celebration of intolerance and ritualised torture. However, moving on…

Treacle toffee

900g (900g? YES! Nine hundred grammes… eek) light brown soft sugar
300ml water
½ tsp cream of tartar
150g butter
250g black treacle
150g golden syrup

Grease and line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment (mine measures about 30cm x 22cm).

Heat the sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepan until it melts (the recipe says you shouldn’t stir at this point, so you might content yourself with shaking it a bit instead) then add the remaining ingredients, stir briefly (control yourselves) and bring to the boil.

This, of course, is where it all gets mildly alarming: all that bubbling sugar? Getting hotter as the water evaporates and the boiling temperature goes up? What could possibly go wrong?!

But don’t worry, it’s actually a lot simpler than it seems. I don’t think you even need a sugar thermometer, in fact. You need to boil the mixture for around 20 minutes (the longer the boil the firmer the set of the toffee) and you should be able to accurately predict when to take the mixture off the hob by using the 'cold-water' method, as follows: every so often, just drop a spoonful of the mixture into a glass of ice-cold water. The first time you do this, the mixture will barely cohere, but a few spoonfuls later it will start to set into a distinct blob as soon as it hits the water, that can easily be brought together into a ball. I think what I have just described would be what this truly excellent website would call the ‘firm ball’ stage whereas the recipe stipulates that you bring it to the higher temperature ‘soft crack’ stage (132-143C) – which would yield a firmer, harder set. But I like a toffee that yields to chewing fairly readily and isn’t going to incur too many unsightly dentists’ bills.

When you’re satisfied that it has reached the appropriate firmness, pour it into your prepared tin and allow it to cool. When it is almost cool, mark it into squares, and when it is completely cool (next day, even), cut it into bite-sized rectangles (a batch of this size would yield around 80 pieces) using a pair of kitchen scissors and wrap in little squares of greaseproof paper, giving each end a twist. If you have cooked it to the slightly softer ‘firm ball’ stage it will not break apart as described in the recipe and you really will need to wrap the pieces as they’ll stick together if simply placed in a tin. But it’s a much more enjoyable eating experience!

Family-friendliness rating: We ALL like this

Cleanup rating: The pan looks like a sticky mess when you've finished but it cleans up really easily in hot, soapy water. 

Can you freeze it? No need - this keeps for ages 

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