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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Easy-Peasy Toffee

I know I said I wouldn't:

But I just ate a still warm Peanut-butter cookie, chased by two glasses of milk; skim milk of course. It wasn't my fault. I came home from ballet class, quivering thighs and puffy toes and all, and what should my wandering eyes find? Cookies?! Cookies?! Yes, yes that's what I need to really nail that double pirouette... cookies.

... or chips, spicy chips. I ate the most amazing bag of hot and spicy chips today: "Mama Zuma's Revenge." I saw a bag of them last weekend while working an event at our local Whole Foods. Somehow, despite the fact that I was simultaneously in the wine section and hot foods bar, I left without buying anything. I guess that's what standing for three hours hawking gourmet chocolates does to you. Regardless, when I hopped (literally, the high was only 25 degrees today) down the street to grab lunch this afternoon, I couldn't help noticing these chips again. Who is that saucy, voluptuous woman? Why do I feel like a super hero sidekick holding the bag? What is she doing with those chili peppers? I can tell you: making the most amazing chips I've ever had give me heartburn. If you like spicy, "Mama Zuma's Revenge" gives you double the fun. Eaten by themselves, or layered between cool slabs of avocado and Jarlsberg Swiss on a sandwich, they are some of the most delightful chips I've ever singed my lips on. They are also, sort of locally made, if you live in Virginia. SPUDS is proud call Route 11 Chips our neighbor (sort of). Did I mention that they were really spicy? That's an understatement, of course.

So what better way to cut the burn than with something sweet, and maybe a little cool? Well, start with a good, tall glass of milk. Then, when you've quenched the flames, try making a batch of this toffee! I, personally, relish the confetti of red and white peppermint dust on top of the chocolate. It also adds a welcome freshness, and cuts a little bit of the fatty sweetness that comes with a grocery store bag of morsels. I know, I'm a snob. I can't help it; it's my job (snubbing inferior chocolate, that is).

My Mom makes these bars every year to great acclaim, and usually only with milk chocolate; although, I think we tried white chocolate once to really amplify the festivity factor. But, considering you won't have to invest in a candy thermometer, and you don't even need to temper the chocolate, the recipe is really a no-brainer no matter what kind of chocolate you use. We like to package it up in little cellophane bags with some pretty ribbon and give them away as gifts. For about $6 you can whip up a number of delicious, yummy favors in a flash. Or, you can always keep them for yourself... no one will really now if you do. Unfortunately, I was at work all day today, and missed the third round of toffee making that has taken place at home in the last 72 hours, so photos are a little scarce. I do hope you will forgive me. It really is an easy recipe! Be creative with your toppings, and if you find something that is undeniably extraordinary tell SPUDS about it!

Notes: Be careful to keep your temperature low. If you singe the butter and brown sugar, or the bars get too dark while baking, you had better start again. If the toffee burns, like garlic, it will turn bitter and be all but inedible.

Toffee Bars

2 stick butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 packages saltine crackers
1 (11.5 ounce) bag milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips

ground nuts, peppermints, espresso beans or sprinkles to decorate

1. Line a standard sized cookie sheet with tin foil. Try to use a single sheet of foil, or carefully overlap two pieces. Otherwise, your toffee will bubble down onto the tray and stick. Preheat the oven to 325.
2. Line the cookie sheet with saltine crackers, breaking the crackers to fit against the edges of the sheet so that all the foil is covered.
3. Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a saucepan on low, stirring constantly until the butter and brown sugar are totally combined.
4. Once the mixture is combined, let it bubble gently for another minute or minute and half. If the mixture darkens significantly it has burned and will taste bitter. If this happens: return to Start, do not pass go!
5. Immediately pour the butter mixture over the crackers, spreading with the back of the spoon gently only where necessary. Once it is smooth, bake it for 13-15 minutes or until it is only golden brown (never brown).
6. Remove the toffee from the oven and immediately scatter the chocolate chips over the toffee. Let them sit for 1-2 minutes, or until they being to soften. Then, smooth them with a knife or the back of a spoon, being careful not to disturb the crackers.
7. Scatter chopped peppermint dust or ground nuts over the toffee and set aside to harden. Once the toffee is totally cool, break it into pieces and store in an airtight container for 7-10 days.

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