I’m too late for the holiday candy tin with this one, I know. So the way I see it, you have two choices. You could either tuck this recipe away for next year’s holiday gifting, or you could come up with a compelling excuse to make this toffee right now.
Let me rephrase that: You could come up with a compelling excuse to make this Salted Chocolate Almond Toffee Right Now. With all of those official-looking capital letters thrown in there – not to mention the italics – I’d say that we have a felicitous new name on our hands for these nutty shards of chocolate, butter, and caramelized sugar: Salted Chocolate Almond Toffee Right Now. Believe me, it fits. It’s also conveniently instructive, a recipe with marching orders included. It puts our little dilemma to bed straight away, without bowing to any of that one more drink of water? and monsters-under-the-bed nonsense that some dilemmas like to pull. You can make any old toffee later. This toffee, on the other hand, all but begs you to get into the kitchen as soon as you possibly can.
All of this is to say that you don’t really need much of a reason to stir together the few simple ingredients that, in a matter of minutes, produce a rich, four-ply blanket of nuts, chocolate, toffee, and nuts again. But if you simply must have one, a reason that is, I’m sure that we can think of something. New Year’s Eve is fast upon us, after all. I, for one, could do a lot worse than to kick off 2010 with a mouthful of this toffee. Packed in a mason jar with a hand-written note, it would make a lovely gift for your New Year’s Eve hosts. (Unless, of course, you happen to be driving up to New Hampshire, to the home of a known toffee-maker extraordinaire, in which case you might want to bring this almond tart, instead.) Or maybe you have something special to celebrate. A birthday? A graduation? The engagement, perhaps, of your amazing first cousin to an equally amazing guy?* And, I mean, it is Thursday, which happens to be a very fine day for making toffee.
If you’ve never made candy before, this toffee is an excellent place to start. I find the process to be so pretty. There’s the toasting of the almonds, the smoothing of the melty chocolate, and above all, the bubbling mass of sugar and butter that deepens in color, flavor, and aroma, and gradually thickens, until it’s pushing back against your wooden spoon as you stir and, before you know it, pouring in ribbons from the pot. It’s like magic. Up until very recently, I suffered from an irrational fear of candy thermometers. Timers, oven thermometers, scales and I do just fine, thank you, but the candy thermometer, I was convinced, was secretly out to get me. Then, I realized that the exact opposite is true. The candy thermometer is like that straight-shooting friend with flawless judgment who calls it like she sees it. Its one and only job is to eliminate any and all guesswork from your stovetop. That, my friends, is a blessing. Thanks to my new pal the candy thermometer, this toffee is as simple to prepare as it is unsettlingly addictive. Well, almost.
[Speaking of blessings, happy New Year, everyone! May it be a good one for us all.]
*Congratulations, Katie and Kit! All my love to you both. xo.
p.s. – If instead of heading into your kitchen in these final hours of 2009, you’d prefer to let me make this toffee for you, there’s still time to bid on my Sweet Amandine Trio – along with all of the other terrific items – over at Menu for Hope. All it takes is a donation of $10. The campaign ends today!
Salted Chocolate Almond Toffee
Adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson
As Ms. Prueitt and Mr. Robertson suggest in their recipe notes, a not-so-sweet chocolate is best against the super-sweet toffee. I use 70% Scharffen-Berger. Once the sugar begins to caramelize, things happen fast, so it’s best to measure out all of your ingredients before you turn on the flame. It’s not as fussy as it sounds. You can measure the sugar, water, butter, molasses, and salt directly into the pot. Then, measure the baking soda and vanilla into separate glass bowls, and you can pretend you’re Martha Stewart when, smiling graciously, you spill them into the bubbling toffee. I made just one change to this recipe, which is to finish the toffee with a couple of extra pinches of sea salt. Oh baby. It’s good.
2 c. sliced almonds
1¾ c. granulated white sugar
3 T. water
½ c. unsalted butter
1 t. Blackstrap or other dark molasses
¼ t. sea salt, plus another 2-3 generous pinches for finishing
1 t. vanilla extract
¼ t. baking soda
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner, and evenly spread half of the almonds on top. There should be no visible parchment paper between the almonds. Reserve the remaining almonds for topping.
Combine the sugar, water, butter, molasses, and salt in a medium, heavy saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 295 degrees – no more, no less – on a candy thermometer. Depending on your heat and your pot, it will take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. Stir well, until fully incorporated. The mixture will bubble up when you add the baking soda, so take care.
Pour the hot mixture evenly over the almonds. Work quickly, as it will begin setting up immediately. If necessary, use a lightly-oiled rubber spatula to spread the toffee. When the toffee is just cool enough to touch, spread the chopped chocolate over top. As the chocolate melts from the warmth, use a spatula to spread it across the toffee. Sprinkle the rest of the almonds, and then a couple of pinches of sea salt over the chocolate to finish. Let cool completely. (I’ve been known to speed things up by sliding the pan into the refrigerator.)
Break the cooled sheet into pieces. The toffee will keep in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for several weeks. Do not freeze.
Yield: About 1½ pounds.
Bonus: Once you’ve broken the toffee into pieces and packed it away, you’ll have a whole mess of chocolate, toffee, and almond crumbs left on your pan. Don’t sweep it into the garbage. Instead, save it. It’s wonderful sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or plain, tangy yogurt.