Tips for making English toffee (2024)

I have to admit, I’m the Grinch when it comes to decorated Christmas cookies. Rolling out dough has never been my favorite baking pastime. And while I’ll put up with rolling pastry when the end result is a warm slice of berry pie, sugar cookies shaped like reindeer just don’t have that same allure. Which is why, at this time of year, my thoughts turn to homemade candy: especially crunchy, Heath bar-like English toffee studded with chocolate and toasted nuts.

“I don’t make candy,” you say? Well, why ever not? It’s much simpler than just about any cookie you can make; it dirties one (count it, one) pan; and a little goes a long way. Make three or four or five different candies — say, English toffee, brittle, bark, fudge, and caramels or marshmallows — and you can easily fill a dozen gift bags.

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Not only that: most candy can be made, wrapped, and stored for at least a couple of weeks prior to serving or giving it away. When you’re pressed for time (and who isn’t right about now?), a pantry stash of homemade candy is a lifesaver.

Unexpected guests? Send them home with a mini gift bag of homemade English toffee or fudge truffles (which you just happen to have on hand thanks to your exquisite pre-planning).

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. What’s the one thing that stops most people from making candy that starts with cooked sugar syrup, like this English toffee?

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Fear of boiling syrup.

People tend to be scared of hot syrup — and for good reason, since it can render a painful burn if you’re not careful.

But do you avoid using a knife for fear of cutting yourself? Never boil pasta because of its billowing steam? Handling a pot of simmering butter and sugar is worth the extra care when the end result is a delicious batch of holiday candy.

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Nut-studded, chocolate-enrobedDark Chocolate Buttercrunchis America's version of English toffee. And honestly, if I had to pick my favorite homemade candy — this is it.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: Simmer butter, sugar, water, salt, and a touch of corn syrup; then combine the dark-gold syrup with toasted nuts and chocolate chips. Cool, break into pieces, and share with family and friends — all of whom will wax poetic about the joys of buttercrunch!

I always start with the buttercrunch recipe on our site, but over the years I’ve discovered some handy tips and have developed a few delicious modifications. Interested? Read on. Tips for making English toffee (4)

Intensify flavor with espresso powder

While English toffee is already deeply caramelized and richly flavored, I like to add a teaspoon of espresso powder to the sugar for an extra note of flavor. I find the slight bitterness of espresso helps offset the sugar’s sweetness, and its very mild coffee flavor is a fine complement to the candy’s caramel notes.

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Use a light-colored saucepan

Some people enjoy "blonde" toffee with just a hint of caramel; others cook their syrup to just short of burned, for candy with assertively caramelized flavor.

While you may gauge the syrup’s stage with a candy thermometer, your eyes are important too. Is the syrup pale as a palomino pony? Amber like maple syrup? Dark as autumn oak leaves? With experience, you’ll learn just how dark you like your candy — but you can only do this if you use a light-colored pan, one that doesn’t hide the syrup’s true color.

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Prevent spill-overs: Grease the pan

There’s nothing like the sight of bubbling syrup climbing up, up, up the sides of your saucepan. Is it going to stop — or spill over?

Help that syrup stay where it belongs by greasing the inside of your saucepan with vegetable oil pan spray before you start. Just like fairgoers grappling with the famous greased pole, syrup has difficulty climbing the sides of a greased pan.

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Low and slow

Simmering the syrup for English toffee to the requisite 300°F temperature can (and should) be a slow process — up to 20 minutes or so. Don't hurry this gradual transformation; syrup that doesn't reach 300°F, or close to it, will make candy with timid flavor and chewy (not crunchy)texture.

Think you can save time by bringing the syrup to a full rolling, popping boil in order for it to darken more quickly? Think again. You're just setting yourself up for separation anxiety: i.e., the butter separating from the sugar and forming a recalcitrant oily mass — purely as a result of your haste!

Simmer the syrup vigorously, but don't cook it at such high heat that it looks like it's jumping out of its skin. Not only do you risk separation; it's very easy to create a smear of burned sugar on the bottom of the pot, which can and probably will turn the syrup (and your candy) bitter.

When I make buttercrunch, it typically takes about 15 minutes over medium heat to bring the syrup to 300°F. It goes slowly at first, but towards the end the temperature rises quickly; I watch it fairly closely once it gets to 280°F or so.

If you don't have a thermometer, you'll need to do the "hard crack" test. Dribble some syrup into ice water, and let it set for 10 seconds. Fish the hardened candy out of the water and test its texture. Is it crisp, not chewy? Does it snap cleanly, rather than bend? It's ready.

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For better crunch, add baking soda

If you’ve ever added baking soda to simmering sugar syrup you’ve experienced the “excitement” of that sudden billow of bubbles. What’s going on? The base soda is reacting with the acid sugar, plus heat, to make tons of tiny bubbles. Those bubbles remain trapped in the syrup as it cools in the pan, yielding toffee whose consistency is lightly crunchy rather than hard: think light-textured American-style biscotti vs. rock-hard Italian-style.

Do you have to add baking soda to buttercrunch? No, not at all; in fact, our base recipe doesn’t call for it. But if you’re looking for candy whose crunch is light rather than "toothsome," do add a teaspoon of baking soda (you’ll find that option offered in the recipe).

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Go beyond the English toffee basics

Buttercrunch can be absolutely plain: just pour the syrup into the pan and Bob’s your uncle, you’re done. But most of us like to gussy it up, Heath bar-like, with chocolate and/or nuts. Here are some things to keep in mind.

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Vary the nuts

I use pecans and almonds interchangeably. Flavor-wise, they’re both good fits. Want to use walnuts? Macadamias? Pistachios? Totally your choice.

Whatever you choose, it’s best to toast the nuts first to bring out their flavor. I bake them for about 8 minutes at 350°F in my toaster oven, but use whatever method's your favorite; your goal is golden-brown nuts.

Also, dice the nuts fairly fine, since this makes it easier to break the candy into smaller pieces.

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I’ve been known to grind the toasted nuts and press them onto the top of the hot candy, for a smoother appearance without any compromise in flavor. (If you think you need it, put a layer of parchment between you and the nuts/toffee to protect your fingers as you press.)

As for chocolate, the Baking Police say go right ahead, use milk chocolate or white chocolate (or no chocolate) if that's your preference. Bailey's Irish Cream chips? Genius!

Control the balance of toffee, chocolate, and nuts

Do you like a thin layer of toffee sandwiched between a generous amount of chocolate and nuts? Or do you prefer a thicker layer of toffee, with the other elements providing a welcome counterpoint without taking over? The choice is yours.

Our original buttercrunch recipe calls for toffee enrobed in a generous amount of both chocolate and nuts, top and bottom.

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I prefer a less decadent version: I cut the amount of both chocolate and nuts in half, using chocolate chips below the toffee, nuts on top.

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For toffee with chunks of chocolate embedded in the bottom, I use whole chips (left, above). For a more even layer of chocolate, I process the chips briefly in a food processor (right, above); I don't want them ground to powder, just broken up.

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I pour the syrup into a 9” square pan rather than freeform it onto a baking sheet, so the layer of toffee is uniform. Lining the pan with a parchment "sling" makes it easy to lift the candy out once it's set.Tips for making English toffee (15)

Now, some folks like nuts on the bottom, chocolate on top, with perhaps a scattering of nuts atop the chocolate.

Some people stir the nuts into the syrup before pouring it into/onto the pan, then sprinkle chocolate chips on top, smearing them to cover as they soften and melt.

And yes, some folks eschew either chocolate or nuts entirely; really, this is all up to you.Don't imitate the old carthorse trudging its well-traveled milk route; use your imagination!

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Whatever you choose to make in your kitchen this holiday, if you wrap it up and give it with love you just can't go wrong.

Here are the candies I'm making over the next couple of weeks:Microwave Peanut Brittle,Choco-Mallow,Peppermint Crunch Bark,Apple Cider Caramels, andDeluxe Chocolate Truffles.How about you — any candy-making in your near future?

Tips for making English toffee (2024)


What can go wrong when making toffee? ›

Stirring too quickly or too often can cause the toffee to separate. Moderate the heat as needed – turn it down if the toffee is boiling or cooking too fast so it doesn't burn.

Why won t my toffee get hard? ›

Why is my toffee soft? If your toffee doesn't have a hard texture (where you can snap it in half) you did not cook it long enough. Again, the 5-minutes is just a guide. Cook it until it is the color of a brown bag.

Should I stir while making toffee? ›

Lesson #2: You Can Stir, But Use Severe Discipline

At least for a little while. Too much agitation may cause the mixture to crystallize or separate, but too little stirring may cause the mixture to heat unevenly and burn. The latter is a highly likely outcome due to the addition of butter in toffee recipes.

Why is my toffee chewy and not crunchy? ›

Don't hurry this gradual transformation; syrup that doesn't reach 300°F, or close to it, will make candy with timid flavor and chewy (not crunchy) texture. Think you can save time by bringing the syrup to a full rolling, popping boil in order for it to darken more quickly? Think again.

How to prevent butter from separating when making toffee? ›

If the two elements melt unevenly it can result in separation. If you have good stovetop burners, we recommend turning them to medium-low to allow the butter and sugar to melt gently in the beginning stages. If the heat is too high, but butter might melt too quickly and can separate from the sugar.

Why did a toffee fail to set despite using the correct ingredients? ›

This usually happens when the toffee mixture is heated too quickly or at too high of a temperature. Make sure to use medium heat (or medium-low) and go SLOW!

What does overcooked toffee look like? ›

Toffee Making Tips + Troubleshooting

Undercooked toffee won't be anything more than a caramel sauce. But overcooked toffee will be just slightly crunchier (almost unrecognizably). So, always err on the side of over-cooking!

Why do you add vinegar to toffee? ›

This recipe includes a dash of vinegar which will help keep the colour of the toffee clear and bright and banish any cloudiness.

How do you know when toffee is done? ›

Last, keep temping toffee until thermometer says 285 do the ice water test by dropping a dot of toffee into some ice should be brittle. If so, it's done. It will be a very dark amber color. Pour into foil lined pan, put on chocolate and nuts and, VOILA!

Why add baking soda to toffee? ›

Brittles and toffees accumulate small amounts of acid from the browning reactions that occur during cooking. This is one reason why the baking soda is added at the end of cooking. The soda reacts with the acid to make bubbles, and the syrup foams.

Why is my English toffee grainy? ›

As the toffee cools and the molten sugar crystals become solid again, they are attracted to the 'seed' forming new lumps of tiny crystals – hence the grainy texture.

What does cream of tartar do in toffee? ›

Adding cream of tartar when you're making candy helps prevent the creation of sugar crystals. That's why lots of icing, syrup or candy recipes call for it: it makes it so the end product doesn't have large crunchy sugar capsules.

Is English toffee hard or soft? ›

Toffee is a hard candy made by cooking a sugar syrup with butter to the hard crack stage, 300–310°F (149–154°C), and then pouring it out to cool. It can have inclusions or not, and it can be made either very dense and hard or can be lightened by adding baking soda when the candy is almost done cooking .

What is the hard crack stage of toffee? ›

300° F–310° F

The hard-crack stage is the highest temperature you are likely to see specified in a candy recipe. At these temperatures, there is almost no water left in the syrup. Drop a little of the molten syrup in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads that break when bent.

Why add water to toffee? ›

Add the water and again bring to the boiling point. Boiling the butter and water will dissolve the sugar crystals very quickly. This will keep the batch from recrystallizing during the cooking process.

Why did my toffee turn out grainy? ›

As the toffee cools and the molten sugar crystals become solid again, they are attracted to the 'seed' forming new lumps of tiny crystals – hence the grainy texture. This can also happen if the toffee is stirred, or agitated, after it has begun to boil or on cooling (as happened with this pink-tinted toffee).

How do you keep toffee from crystallizing? ›

As an alternative solution, before cooking, add corn syrup or a mild acid like lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar to break up crystallization.

Should toffee be hard or soft? ›

Toffee is a hard candy made by cooking a sugar syrup with butter to the hard crack stage, 300–310°F (149–154°C), and then pouring it out to cool. It can have inclusions or not, and it can be made either very dense and hard or can be lightened by adding baking soda when the candy is almost done cooking .

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