An Epic Afternoon

Yesterday, I wrote a post for Bay Area Bites about my recent experience learning how to make Denise’s Pieces, our family’s very favorite Christmas treat. If you’re interested in reading all about our afternoon, head on over and check it out. Otherwise, I wanted to share the recipe with you all here.

First it’s worth mentioning that Christmas wasn’t Christmas at my house without Denise’s Pieces. Denise used to work with my dad, and has since become a family friend. She is infamous for her English Toffee and sends out fifty pounds each holiday season. Her Aunt Betty taught her the recipe twenty-five years ago and she’s been perfecting and adapting it ever since. Each holiday, my sisters and I argue/gorge/hoard pieces from the tin to stretch out the supply–but this year, Denise agreed to drive up to our house the day after Thanksgiving and teach us the insider secrets (lots of stirring) and the recipe.


When Denise arrived, she set up the equipment and ingredients…and the caveat. I could tell something big was about to happen; the energy in the room changed quickly. That’s right about when Denise announced that once she teaches you the recipe, you own it and she no longer sends a yearly tin. I couldn’t believe my ears. I’d rather not know, I thought, having trouble imagining Christmas without toffee straight from Denise. But alas, my sister Rachael and I looked at each other and knew what we had to do: we had to learn how to perfect these Pieces. And we did. And now, you can too.

Now if you’ve never made toffee or candy before, it does take a bit of initial patience. You need a good candy thermometer and buy a few extra sticks of butter in case you have to heave the first batch…it does take a little practice to gauge what the “hard crack” stage looks like. But really, I promise, this recipe’s easy. You can do it. And once you do, you’ll never want to have another holiday without.

Denise's Pieces (English Toffee)

Denise's Pieces (English Toffee)

  • Yield: Roughly 2 pounds
  • Cook time: 1 hr

Equipment:
5 glass 9-inch Pyrex round pie pans
Candy Thermometer (stay away from the glass ones as they get quite hot)
2 Copper-bottom saucepans or (or similar quality)
Wax Paper
Wooden Spoon, Spatula

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups sugar
5-6 cups Chocolate Chips (not exact—may need a little more or a little less)
½ cup water
4 sticks high quality sweet cream butter
1 pound bag walnuts (or your preference of nuts), crushed

Instructions

Butter your Pyrex pans using one of the sticks of butter and set aside (don’t worry, you’ll have a little less than 4 sticks for the recipe after this step, but that’s o.k). Put the chocolate chips in one of your pans and heat on very low heat to get them melting. Once melted, turn heat off and allow them to hang out—you’ll use it to top the toffee later.

Place sticks of butter in saucepan with candy thermometer fitted on side. Heat slowly on low-medium heat and stir constantly until you reach 170 degrees. Slowly dribble the water into the butter, stirring as you go and then bring the temperature back up to 170.

Add the sugar very slowly, stirring in between each addition. Then, simply continue stirring until the mixture reaches a “hard crack” stage of 300 degrees. This should take roughly twenty minutes depending on your stove and cookware. When you reach about 275 degrees, the heat will stay right there for quite sometime. Don’t worry. Keep stirring. If things are going well the mixture should be increasing in volume, about 2x what it looked like originally. Look for the color to be changing to a nice, caramelly brown.

When you reach the “hard crack” stage, pull the pan off and pour into the Pyrex in a circular motion, hitting the center last (this will prevent you from pouring it all into the center of the pan and having it sit in a clump there—you’re going for a nice even layer). Wait about 5 minutes for toffee to cool (you don’t want to melt the wax paper) and then loosen the candy from the Pyrex gently with a knife using a circular motion. Set on wax paper and blot with a napkin to get rid of any extra butter (which would make it difficult for the chocolate layer to stick).

Check on your chocolate and make sure it hasn’t firmed back up (if it has, give it a quick heat on the stove). Spread melted chocolate on the surface with a spoon or spatula and sprinkle nuts generously. Gently press nuts into the chocolate so they’ll stick and flip toffee over. Repeat on other side. Then layer toffee onto a cookie sheet and put in fridge to cool and set completely—24 hrs is ideal.

After completely set, break up into pieces and arrange in tins or plates.

Comments

  1. Justin

    i get so excited when i see people making toffee at home... i haven't done it in a while though

  2. Megan Gordon

    Thanks, Justin! You know, I'm usually with you when it comes to anything that calls for a candy thermometer...but I may be a changed woman now.

  3. El

    I love homemade toffee and am thrilled to see this recipe posted. Thank you (and Denise) so much for sharing this tradition.

  4. mcs3000

    I first saw your byline when I read your profile on Celia, the founder of Omnivore Books. It's been fun to read your work. Great writing and I would not be surprised if a national food magazine asked you to be a regular contributor. Best, Mary

  5. Megan Gordon

    Thanks, El: hope you'll try it!

    And Mary, what lovely comments. Put a smile on my face first thing this morning. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Chez Danisse

    Beautiful! I love English Toffee, my name is Denise...needless to say, this was a fun post for me :)

  7. Kristen McIntyre

    Just found your blog - so amazing. Am certainly trying out your winter morning couscous recipe. When I came across Denise's Pieces I got way too excited. English Toffee is a favorite around here and have been dying to try to make my own! Thank you :)

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