I recently re-discovered how much fun baking can be, and in the run-up to Beltane this year I used my group as willing guinea pigs to experiment with a few things, mostly toffee. Because it turns out that you can actually make toffee at home.
- 200g of sugar
- Cup of non-dairy margarine (also about 200g. Vitalite seems to work really well.)
- 2 tbsp (30ml) of water
- 3 tbsps of Golden Syrup (for flavour, optional)
- 1 tsp of vanilla flavouring (for flavour, optional)
- Small quantity (about 30g) of pecans or other nuts.
Put the margarine and water (and syrup, if you want it) into a large pot, and stir occasionally over a low heat until the margarine melts.
While waiting for the margarine mixture to melt, find a wide shallow baking tray and grease it with some of the margarine. Now is also a good time to crush up the nuts.
Once the margarine is all melted, stir in the sugar and increase the heat under the pot. Keep stirring to make sure things don't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Next, we need to heat the mixture to a specific temperature. The consistency of the toffee is related most closely to how hot you get it: cooler maximum temperatures give you softer, chewier toffee; higher temperatures give harder toffee.
Increase the heat under the pan and keep stirring until it starts boiling. Because the sugar solution is quite viscous, the bubbles formed by the evaporating water will be quite long-lived, so the mixture will bubble up quite high. That's why having a big pan is a good idea!
Once the mixture is boiling, it's probably a good idea to reduce the heat a little. So long as you keep the heat high enough to keep the mixture boiling, the temperature will continue to increase (as the water evaporates, the boiling point of the mixture increases, due to SCIENCE!).
Keep stirring the mixture, but slowly and carefully: the mixture will be hotter than boiling water, and it'll stick to you if it splashes!
A sugar thermometer is very handy for this. I've found I get the best results aiming for about 130 degrees C, but there's an alternative way of measuring the temperature indirectly by dropping a spoon of the toffee into cold water and watching what happens: this cools it quickly to more or less room temperature, so you can check if it's what you want. Once you've done it a few times you can also recognise it by smell!
Once it's reached the right temperature, take it off the heat to make sure it doesn't get any hotter.
Add the pecans and the vanilla flavouring into the mixture and stir. Adding in the vanilla flavouring should make the mixture boil again briefly as the water in the flavouring evaporates, since the mixture will still be hotter than the boiling point of the water!
Before the mixture cools too much, pour it into the baking tray! If you've taken too long to add flavourings and the mixture has cooled too much, you might find that the mixture crystallises into a hard tablet-like substance. If this happens, you can return it to the pan, with a little tiny bit of water, heat it until it melts and boils, and then pour it again.
Let it cool in the fridge. When thoroughly cooled (an hour or so) pop it out of the tray and break it up. If it's a bit squishy, you can use a knife to cut it. A pizza cutter is actually ideal for this. If it's hard, you can hit it to break it into sections, or minimise the amount of crumbs you create by using a sharp heavy knife (or, ideally, a cleaver!) and using nice hard chops to cut it up.
- Melt margarine, water and syrup on a low heat
- Stir in sugar
- Heat on a high heat to 130 degrees C
- Take off the heat and add nuts
- Pour into a baking tray before it cools too much