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)


How to keep English toffee from separating? ›

How to prevent toffee from separating
  1. Don't change the heat suddenly, hot or cold. Try to keep the temperature even during the whole cooking process.
  2. Make sure to follow the instructions and stir as often as indicated to keep the mixture together.
  3. Try to use a heavy bottomed pan that will distribute the heat evenly.
Jan 17, 2017

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 is my toffee chewy and not crunchy? ›

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.

Do you stir toffee constantly? ›

Once boiling, cook, stirring only 2 to 3 times, until it turns a dark amber color and the temperature reaches 285 degrees F (137 degrees C) on a candy thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes. Immediately pour toffee into the prepared baking dish.

How do I stop toffee crystallizing? ›

To help prevent crystallisation, an acid/fructose such as lemon juice or cream of tartar can be added before boiling, or a glucose solution. This makes the molecules odd shapes and harder to form geometrical solid blocks. So it helps keep them separate, enabling a clear toffee.

Why is my toffee not set and why is it's texture grainy and not smooth? ›

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).

What kind of pan is best for making toffee? ›

This should NOT be a non-stick pan, because non-stick pans allow crystals to be pulled into the cooking toffee and will cause the batch to crystallize. The heavy pan distributes heavy evenly so the toffee cooks without burning.

Why cream of tartar in toffee? ›

This means that as boiling continues, a portion of the sugar separates into its constituent parts—glucose and fructose. Adding cream of tartar and a dash of vinegar to a toffee recipe helps bring about this change.

Why do you 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.

What temperature should toffee be cooked at? ›

Make sure that the point of the candy thermometer is not touching the bottom of your pan. Continue to stir occasionally, the mixture will slowly thicken and will turn a more yellow hue as it cooks, and cook to hard crack (305°F/151°C).

How to tell when toffee is done? ›

Here's how you know when the toffee is ready. Keep one of the almonds near the pan. It's your color cue. When the toffee is the color of the almond skin, it's done!

What does overcooked toffee look like? ›

But overcooked toffee will be just slightly crunchier (almost unrecognizably). So, always err on the side of over-cooking! Tip 2 explains how to do so! In order to avoid your chocolate turning white, you'll want to let it set in a room temperature spot without exposure to any drafts.

How to keep 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 do you put butter in toffee? ›

Butter is added in the final stages to add flavor and smoothness and inhibit large crystal formation. Use unsalted butter so you can add a small amount of salt (¼ teaspoon per stick of butter) to the sugar/liquid mixture.

Should homemade toffee be refrigerated? ›

For maximum taste and texture, we do recommend that you either enjoy your toffee immediately, or store it in a refrigerator or freezer.

Why did my toffee mixture separate? ›

Our answer

The butter, sugar and syrup are melted together and should form a smooth sauce. When the sauce cools it should remain amalgamated. If the butterfat separates out then usually this is due to the mixture being either heated or cooled too quickly, which "shocks" the mixture and causes the fat to separate out.

Should English toffee be refrigerated? ›

We recommend serving the toffee at room temperature, although many of our customers tell us they love it cold. Conservatively, our toffee will keep well in the refrigerator for three weeks (take care to guard against moisture getting to it), and three months in the freezer.

How to fix caramel that has separated? ›

Often, a split caramel can be saved by gently reheating the caramel and stirring continuously. Adding some extra water can also help here to mix everything again before boiling off that extra water one more time. Last but not least, do not heat or cool down the caramel too rapidly.


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