A video tutorial is at the bottom of this recipe.
I make this popular Christmas candy each year as easy, non-materialistic gifts. One batch will make 8-10 small present bundles, just wrap them in colored cellophane, tie it with some ribbon, and you’ve got a gift that will make mouths water with jealousy! It will be demanded again and again each year…you’ll quickly discover it’s a far better idea to give this toffee as gifts rather than empty your wallet and wrack your brain to come up with the perfect gift for everyone in your life.
People are often intimidated by making candy, but if you follow the instructions carefully, you’ll have success every single time. One thing you MUST HAVE when making candy is a thermometer. I use the same remote probe thermometer that I use for cooking meats, but you can also get a dedicated candy thermometer for around $5 at the grocery store. (Don’t put it in the dishwasher!) A thermometer is CRITICAL when making candy. As sugar approaches the burnt stage (350F) it begins to develop deep, complex flavors. The closer you take it to burnt, the better it tastes…until it burns. And it burns VERY quickly. So an accurate thermometer is critical.
Another bit of equipment that makes candy making effortless is a silicone pad (commonly known by the brand name Silpat). They are expensive (around $20 each) but I’m in love with mine. They’re also great for baking cookies. They are basically a perfectly nonstick surface that is heat resistant, so you can spread the screaming hot candy onto it and not worry about it sticking. You’ll see many recipes that suggest you use buttered parchment or foil…DON’T. You’ll never get all the bits unstuck from the bottom of the candy. If you don’t have a Silpat, butter the bottom of a cookie sheet and pour the candy directly onto it. You’ll still get some pieces sticking, but you can “pop” the candy off the sheet by flexing it.
A word about chocolate…if you want to make this recipe very special, get yourself some Callebaut or Valrhona bittersweet chocolate. You can often find them at upscale grocery stores, but you can also order them on the internet. The difference between these chocolates and chocolate chips from the grocery store are like the difference between Boone’s Farm and fine Champagne. If you can’t find premium chocolates in chip form, buy them in block form and chop them finely for this recipe.
A word about nuts…this recipe calls for hazelnuts, but they can be hard to find. Most upscale grocery stores and organic stores will sell them in bulk for around $12 a pound. If you can’t find them, or if they’re too expensive, ANY nut will substitute just fine. Pecans, walnuts, and almonds work best, followed by peanuts, then cashews and pistachios. Use UNSALTED nuts! If you can’t find them, remove the salt from the recipe. Chop your nuts finely and then toast them in the microwave by heating them at full power in 60 second increments, stirring between each segment, for a total of 3 minutes. After that, continue cooking in 30 second increments until the nuts are sizzling and fragrant, stirring each time. It’s hard to over-toast them with this method. When you toast hazelnuts in a pan on the stove, or in the oven, the skins tend to burn and give an acrid flavor. The microwave is more gentle. But be careful, the bowl will be screaming hot when you remove it from the microwave!
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
Set the toasted nuts close to your stove top for the next step. Prepare your silpat or buttered baking sheet. If you use a silpat, place it inside or on the bottom of a baking sheet for support. Everything needs to be ready so it can be combined and dumped the instant your sugar reaches the proper temperature.
In a 2 quart saucepan, combine:
1 cup (8 oz, 2 sticks) unsalted butter (REAL butter. Never, ever, ever buy anything but REAL butter.)
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon honey (you can substitute corn syrup, but I don’t like processed ingredients)
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons water
**The honey in this recipe is very important. It adds glucose, which helps keep the sugar from crystallizing while it’s cooking or cooling, resulting in a smooth, crisp candy.
Bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Then lower your heat to medium, insert your thermometer, and stir the mixture slowly but constantly. Try to avoid scraping the spoon against the side of the pan, but try to regularly scrape the entire bottom of the pot. Stir slowly. A flat bottomed wooden spoon is most effective.
You may hear people say not to stir candy. That’s malarkey. Your candy WILL BURN if you don’t stir it. Just don’t stir fast. And you can thank me for the addition of the honey (or corn syrup) which contains glucose, which helps prevent candy from crystallizing, which it will do if you stir it too vigorously, or if lots of crystals of sugar accumulate on the sides of the pan. (One of the reasons you don’t want the spoon contacting the sides of the pan, only the bottom.)
The color of the candy will begin to deepen and you’ll begin to smell caramely flavors. Once you hit 300F, the temperature will increase VERY rapidly, so keep careful watch. The instant the sugar reaches 320F, remove it from the heat. With one hand, continue stirring, while you dump the nuts into the candy with the other hand. The candy is sticky and hot…a dangerous combination, so be very cautious that you don’t come in contact with it, or you’ll get one of the worst burns of your life! Stir briskly until the nuts are all coated with candy, then immediately dump onto your silpat or baking sheet. Using oven mitts, tilt the pan back and forth to spread the candy into a fairly thin layer. Then sprinkle:
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped premium chocolate
Sprinkle them directly on top of the screaming hot candy. Let the chips sit for 5 minutes. They will melt but retain most of their shape. They will be glossy when melted. Using a table knife, gently spread the melted chocolate into a fairly thin layer on top of the candy.
Let the candy sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then move it into your fridge to chill and set for another 30 minutes. Break into bite sized pieces, and enjoy!
Here is a rather scattered video tutorial from my Christmas special at the Kenmore Live Studios in Chicago. The producers surprised me by bringing out several of my close friends from MasterChef, and I had very little time to make the candy, but you’ll get the idea!