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(Kimberley Navabpour / Sunset Publishing)

While making Molly's Toffee, Assistant Travel Editor Megan McCrea learned the importance of reading directions. All of them. Before starting to cook.

Every December, no matter where we live, no matter how busy we are, my mom observes one time-honored Christmas tradition. She makes batches and batches of sweet treats—Russian teacakes, sugar cookies, creme de menthe squares, Buckeyes—puts them on plates, and sends me, my dad, and my brother to deliver the goodies to friends and neighbors.

I've always enjoyed being  "delivery elf," but now, as a 5'7" 30 year-old with a full-time job at a lifestyle magazine, I'm thinking that I should step up my contribution beyond plate-running.

Enter this month's cookbook, Heartlandia, a comfort food cookbook which includes a recipe for (drumroll, please)...toffee. Could this toffee, perhaps, spell holiday redemption?

Why this recipe?

I'll admit: while I love the idea of sharing toffee with my colleagues, friends, and family, I also love sugar. So much so that, until earlier this year, I drank fully sweetened soda daily, and I (still!) consider dessert the fourth meal of the day.

What's more, I liked the simple ingredient list (five ingredients!), the simple instructions (four steps!), and I couldn't wait to see if this recipe would satisfy both my need for DIY holiday gifts and my raging sweet tooth.

Five ingredients: It doesn't get any easier. (Carol Shih/Sunset Publishing)

 

What was it like to make this dish?

As ever, an adventure. You know those activities that kids do in school, where they are given a worksheet filled with instructions, and the instructions get progressively stranger and stranger, until the final instruction tells them not to do any of the preceding things on the sheet? And then the kid who doesn't read all of the instructions in advance winds up barking like a dog while hopping on one foot in front of his classmates, who have read all of the instructions and are silently laughing at him? Yeah, that kid was me.

This recipe was the culinary version of that activity. Specifically, I had laid out my ingredients, lined my baking sheet, and started making the caramel before I read step 3. In that step, I needed to sprinkle toasted, roughly chopped pecans over the toffee. Oh wait, I thought, my nuts are neither toasted nor chopped. I flipped back to page 55 to read about nut toasting.

Surprise! Once you have preheated the oven to 325 degrees, it takes 20 minutes to toast nuts. My caramel, which had, by now, been simmering for 5 minutes, was due to be done in 10. Gaaaaah!

(Carol Shih/Sunset Publishing)

What's more, the caramel—which was supposed to reach 300 degrees in 15 minutes—remained stubbornly stuck at 180 around the 12 minute mark. Gingerly, I cranked up the heat, watching the mercury slowly rise and, simultaneously, watching part of the candy thermometer slowly fall...off of the thermometer and onto the stovetop.

On the good news front, the caramel did reach 300 degrees and turn an amber color. I removed it from heat, poured it onto the cookie sheet, sprinkled salt on top, sprinkled chocolate chips on top, and spread the chocolate evenly across the caramel.

Toffee in progress. (Carol Shih/Sunset Publishing)

I then opened the oven to find...a cookie sheet filled with pecans the color of charcoal.

"Those will ruin the whole thing," warned Carol, our Digital Associate Editor.

With the chocolate cooling by the second, I knew I had no time to toast another batch of pecans, or, even, to rough chop my remaining raw pecans. Out of options, I sprinkled un-toasted, un-chopped pecans onto the chocolate.

How did it turn out?

A-maz-ing. When I broke the toffee into pieces the next day and shared it with my co-workers, they reacted with pure joy.

In fact, the toffee was such a hit that we ate every last piece of it.

One potential drawback: my colleague Margo, Food Editor, pointed out that, "while the flavors are good, it's a real tooth-sticker. That's something to remember if grandpa is at the table."

Will I make this dish again?

Most certainly! As I mentioned, we loved the toffee so much at Sunset that none of it made it out of the building and into the hands of my roommates, friends, and boyfriend. I'd like to make a batch to share with them.

And, next time, I'll remember that I need to toast and chop the pecans in advance. That should make for a less stressful toffee-making experience.

I'll also need to buy a candy thermometer to make toffee at home, but it'll be worth its weight in sweet, sticky goodness.

 


MOLLY'S TOFFEE from Heartlandia

"My sister-in-law and toffee master, Molly Sappington, makes this pecan-topped toffee every holiday season, and we always look forward to getting a tin of it as a gift," writes Jackie Sappington. "It's great to use on cookie plates and as a sundae garnish."1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes1 cup (7 oz/200 g) sugar1/2 teaspoon kosher salt1 cup (8 oz/228 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips3/4 cup (6 oz/171 g) roughly chopped pecans, toasted

1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter with the sugar and 3 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the caramel turns a light amber and reaches 300F on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Immediately pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet, tilting the sheet as needed to spread the caramel evenly.

3. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the hot caramel, then sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Let the chocolate chips rest until they start to melt. Using a rubber spatula, gently spread the chocolate chips evenly over the caramel. (Do not stir the chocolate chips into the caramel.) Sprinkle the pecans evenly over the chocolate. Let the toffee sit at room temperature until completely cool and set, about 4 hours.

4. Using your hands, break the toffee into pieces and transfer to an airtight container. Stored at room temperature, the toffee will keep for up to 1 week.

CHEF'S NOTE ON TOASTED NUTS

To toast nuts such as pecans or walnuts, arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325F. Spread the nuts evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until they are toasty and golden brown.

Excerpted from Heartlandia by Adam and Jackie Sappington (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

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