I have a confession. I am a horrible fudge and toffee-maker. I would like to blame this on bad candy thermometers or (some other culprit I can’t think of, but I think it is me. A few Christmases ago, during my mom and my annual Christmas baking, I put my name next to Peanut Butter Fudge. Namely, because I love it. When I was younger, we would go to Galveston Beach and shop on the Strand, our last stop would be The Peanut Butter Warehouse, which my mom enjoyed for its antiques and I enjoyed for its fudge. The rest of the family would meander around the store, and I would pace back and forth in front of the fudge counter. I would feast my eyes of toffees and fudges, truffles and cordials, brittle, cookies, and all things chocolate-covered knowing my dad would return to get me and let me pick out one (maayyyybe two) treats for the walk back to the car. Dad and I would walk in the back of our group of people, I would savour my choice of fudge and he would sneak me pieces of him. I always liked peanut butter fudge, especially with a layer of chocolate on the top. So, two Christmases ago, I took on my own Peanut Butter Fudge. I took it on once, twice, three times with two different recipes, and each time, ended up wither with a runny, mushy, Peanut Butter Sludge (still tasty when drizzled over icecream) or something hard and burned, where the sugar had beyond-crystalized. Yuck. I have this twitch engrained in my head that if something I tried to make doesn’t turn out, it must because I did something wrong, and if I try harder, there’s no reason I can’t get it right. So, try, try again. I did nothing that day but look at different recipes and pout over batch after batch of ruined fudge.
Since then, I have kind of stayed away from anything involving candy thermometers, for the most part. I tried in the fall to make a delicious-looking Pumpkin Fudge, but again got Pumpkin Sludge.
This Christmas, we were at my mom’s friend JoAnn’s house. JoAnn, couth and adept in the kitchen, refined and at-ease in such a way that you really think, just for a second, the exquisite Cornish hens baking in the oven of her spotless kitchen may have been easy. You know they weren’t, but she sure makes them look otherwise.
A sheet of English Toffee lay on her kitchen table, half broken into pieces, half still in sheet-form, waiting for its last step. I helped myself to a small piece of toffee, and it was heavenly. The kind you would buy in some gourmet store wrapped in simple chic packaging for a mere $10. And you would feel like you got a good deal because ohmygoshthistoffeeissososogood.
I sheepishly asked for the recipe, with flashbacks of my skill in ruining fudge and toffees to be met with “oh, this is so easy” (me thinking: “but you have no idea”). She pulled the recipe out of a notebook, old and stained with butter-splatters and decorated with grains of sugar that had gone astray from their own recipe.
Long story short, I made the toffee. It was successful. Wonderful. Delish. No candy thermometer required…
JoAnn’s English Toffee.
1 lb (4 sticks) plus 1 ½ T. salted butter. Do not (please do not) use margarine. The increased water content in margarine will make your recipe fail.
2 c. Sugar
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Melt butter with sugar in heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat., stirring constantly with a heatproof spoon. Stir until the mixture turns a dark caramel color (about 8-10 minutes). Pour onto cookie sheet. Cool. Melt chocolate chips with 1 ½ T. butter at 30 second intervals in microwave, stir between each interval. Do not overheat. Spread chocolate over cooled toffee.