Last year was the first time I passed out homemade gifts. I was a bit hesitant at first: Did it make me look cheap? Would giving gifts to people I don’t usually exchange with be uncomfortable? And what if whatever I made wasn’t impressive enough?
Luckily, my doubts were unfounded and completely ridiculous. I discovered that most people appreciate a homemade gift, especially if you package it with a pretty bow. Sounds a little silly, I know, but it’s what I believe.
The loaded fortune cookies I made last year were a huge hit. Not only did the giant cookies make for a striking presentation, but they also tasted great. Unfortunately, they also took forever to make.
So this year I decided to try something new, something I’ve been wanting to make for years but was always just a little afraid: English toffee. It’s a favorite table snack at events like weddings and holiday get-togethers, but I wanted to try a homemade version.
Now that I’d finally worked up the courage to make English toffee (and purchased a much needed candy thermometer), I needed a recipe. After scouring the Internet and taking recommendations on Twitter, I wound up combining the two that looked most promising: Busy Cooks and Paula Deen (afterall, the woman knows butter). My favorite thing about the Busy Cooks recipe was that it called for chocolate and nuts on both sides, something every good English toffee should have. Also, I noticed that many recipes used walnuts or almonds and usually instructed to mix them into the toffee itself, but I’ve always known it with pecans so that’s what I stuck with and used them only on the outside of the toffee.
Here’s the recipe for rich, buttery, sweet and super crunchy homemade English toffee. Oh, and did I mention that it’s really easy?
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with buttered parchment paper or a Silpat. Also have a candy thermometer nearby.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add the sugar, water and salt. Stir almost continuously until the sugar dissolves . Insert a candy thermometer and continue cooking and stirring until the mixture reaches 300°F. Be very careful not to touch the hot mixture!
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Carefully pour the toffee onto the prepared baking sheet. Let cool at room temperature for 2 minutes, then scatter half the chocolate chips over the toffee. Wait 30 seconds then use a knife or offset spatula to spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee. Scatter 1/2 cup pecans over the chocolate and refrigerate the toffee until cold, about 1 hour.
Remove the toffee from the refrigerator an gently flip it over and onto another baking sheet or a cutting board. Peel off the parchment paper or Silpat.
Melt the remaining chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave and pour it over the toffee. Use a spatula or knife to smooth it out, then quickly sprinkle the remaining pecans over the top. This time work quickly to add the pecans or else they won’t adhere. Refrigerate again until cold then break into pieces.
For gifts, package the toffee in clear bags and tie it with a decorative ribbon.