There are some things that you bake, make or cook which are deeply calming; the very process of their creation, let alone their consumption, is enough to salve the stresses of the day.
Pureeing roasted squash for soup is pretty satisfying, or chopping a host of Bramley apples for crumble. Sometimes what you need is a recipe that’s going to pep you up when you need it most. Something you can whip up in the evening, and take with you to see you through a particularly gloomy Monday.
This toffee isn’t the stuff of childhood Christmases: you know, high street chocolate shop boxed, tooth-defying slabs, that were received graciously, attacked gamefully, and then binned unceremoniously come Twelfth Night, sticky and weeping (the toffee, not you).
This is different. This is like a Daim bar on steroids. It’s thicker, nuttier, more toothsome than a Daim bar, but unlike normal toffee, you can actually bite into a bit, and a bit will come off without taking a portion of your tooth with it.
You will need a sugar thermometer for this, but once you have it, toffee is easy. More importantly, it’s magical. Cooking with sugar is alchemy, firstly because, with a bubbling pot in front of you, and an oversized thermometer or teeny tiny temperature probe, you feel like a mad scientist, and secondly because you put something on a stove for a while, nonchalantly stir it a few times, and something hard and brown and dry changes into something mad and golden and glorious. This sort of alchemy is mandatory in November, and the smell released when you crack the toffee is the essence of autumn in your home: intense, buttery almond and caramelised sugar.
I’m using Hope and Greenwood’s recipe here, because it’s splendid.
Before you start, let me offer three tips:
1. Use a deep pan for making the actual toffee: when you add the nuts, it will bubble up, and I don’t want it to bubble over you
2. You really do need to let the toffee cool for an hour after you’ve poured it into the trays before adding the chocolate. I promise it will still be hot enough to melt the chocolate. Toffee takes a very, very long time to cool down], so give it the hour it needs before adding chocolate.
3. If you are using two tins, or differently sized tins to the recommended size, you won’t have precisely the right amount of chocolate to cover the surface. Just do it by eye, or coat one with chocolate, and leave one nude.
It goes likes this:
Almond Butter Toffee Brittle
Makes: A large tray-worth of fat toffee shards
Takes: 2 hours including chilling
Bakes: 25 minutes
Flavourless oil for greasing
400g/14oz flaked almonds
450g/1lb unsalted butter
2oz granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g/7oz milk chocolate, broken into small pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Grease a baking tin (Ideally use a 17x11x1.5” tin, but I used two standard square tins, did it by eye, and they were completely fine).
3. Now you’re going to toast the almonds: put them on a baking tray, and pop them in your pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Remember to give them a good shuffle after 5 minutes Keep an eye on these as nuts singe easily and quickly. Remove once they have taken on a slightly more golden colour and are beginning to smell autumnal.
4. Place a pan on a medium-low heat and gently melt your butter. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Place a sugar thermometer in the pan, bring the mixture to the boil and bubble on a medium heat until it reaches 120C/250F. This should take you about five minutes, but be led by temperature rather than time.
5. Add three-quarters of the toasted almonds and the vanilla extract to the pan and give it a few firm stirs with a wooden spoon. At this stage, tread softly, because your mixture may bubble up quite a lot when the almonds are stirred in. It will feel overly stiff at this point: have faith.
6. Now comes the gritting-your-teeth-patient part. Bring the mixture to a rolling (consistently bubbling) boil. Keep it like this, whilst stirring regularly for around 15 minutes. You are boiling it until it reaches 150°C so you need to keep your nerve: the mixture may hover around 130°C for ages, and then suddenly shoot up to 150°C, so keep a careful eye on it, and don’t take it off the heat until its reached that temperature.
7. Carefully pour your amber toffee into your greased tin. Leave to cool for one hour.
8. Scatter your chocolate pieces evenly over the top of the toffee and leave for ten to fifteen minutes. Spread with a palette knife or the back of a spoon to create an even covering.
9 . Scrunch the remaining almonds in your hands and sprinkle the crumbs over the melted chocolate. Leave to cool for a few hours or overnight.
10. To remove the toffee from the tin, take a flat screwdriver or toffee hammer and break it into chunks.
11. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
This should be eaten having been smashed into shards, whilst watching a cosy old film on the television, but while it’s mid-November, rather than late December, and you’re curled in the foetal position at your desk, rather than starfishing on your parents’ sofa. It can also be folded into greaseproof paper and slipped into packed lunches to bring a little bit of sunshine to your autumn work day.
It’s also great for Christmas gifts, stacked up in Cellophane bags and tied with festive ribbon — your father may finally thank you for giving him toffee for Christmas!