Though, regrettably, this is too late for the winter holiday season just past, I still wanted to share my mom’s annual Christmas confection. (I had to wait until after it was made to photograph it. So, be sure to bookmark it for next year…but, come to think of it, it’s good any time of year.)
For as long as I can remember, Mama has stayed up late making candy the night before I leave my family’s home to return to my own after Christmas. She always tucks a canister of it into my carry on luggage for me to eat and share on the plane–there are frequently passengers I know–or when I arrive at my destination.
In 2004, after she had been making it for many, many years, it mysteriously flopped. (In those days, I was vegetarian, but not vegan, so she was using all of the ingredients she had always used and the same recipe.) I think she made it at least twice–maybe three times–and each time the sugar crystallized. We were both baffled. She ended up scrapping it all, but several days later, I received a “kit” in the mail that included a sheet of toffee that had worked reasonably well, though it was still grainy, some chocolate to melt and some nuts for sprinkling. Not perfect, it was still fun to assemble and eat.
The next year, thinking the failed attempts were a fluke, I was writing a feature about Mama’s toffee for our newspaper’s food section and the same thing happened to me. With a pan of it in thrown into the woods beside our house and a photo shoot the next day, I turned to the most scientific foodie I know of: Alton Brown. In an online recipe, he recommended combining two types of sugar–regular granulated sugar and a little corn syrup–to prevent crystallization. It worked beautifully and that’s how we’ve been making it ever since.
Now we also substitute Earth Balance for real butter. The only difference is that, as the candy hardens, some of the oil seems to separate, so we just blot it up with a paper towel before layering on the chocolate and nuts.
I hope you enjoy this holiday tradition as much as we do. Happy New Year everyone and thanks, Mama!
1 pound vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
6 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
8 ounces vegan semi-sweet or vegan bittersweet chocolate
1 cup sliced almonds (or substitute coarsely chopped slivered almonds, pecans, macadamias or hazelnuts)
Butter a baking sheet and an offset spatula. Set pans on wire racks. Clip candy thermometer to a heavy 3 quart saucepan, preventing it from touching the bottom of the pan. In saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Meanwhile, mix together warm water and corn syrup. Stir sugar into melted butter, raise heat to medium or medium-high (about a 7 or 8 on a dial) and bring to a gentle boil. Stir in water-corn syrup mixture and cook, stirring constantly until thermometer reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit (the “hard crack” stage) or until golden brown, approximately 10-12 minutes. Note: temperature may reach as high as 350 degrees before candy reaches the desired caramel color, but it scorches easily, so be careful. Pour mixture onto baking sheet and, if necessary, use the offset spatula to coax candy to edges of the pan. Cool. Heat chocolate in microwave on 50 percent power or in the top of a double boiler until completely melted, stirring occasionally. Spread over slightly cooled toffee and sprinkle with almonds. Cool completely and refrigerate. Break into irregular pieces. Layer between waxed paper in an airtight container and store in a cool dry place.