Judging Toffee for Taste TV & The Chocolate Salon
Part of the fun of being a food writer is being asked to judge food products and dishes for organizations and restaurants. Not long ago, Taste TV & The Chocolate Salon, a sort of Indie version of the Food Network, invited me to judge toffee for their annual Taste Awards. Why not?
Thus, a few days ago a large box arrived containing nine English toffee samples from candy makers across the country, including Hawaii. Toffee, according to Carole Bloom in “The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries, and Confections,” is a brittle, crunchy candy made from butter, sugar, and water. The mixture cooks until it reaches the soft crack stage and then is poured into a shallow pan to cool before being cut into pieces. English toffee takes the candy one step further by coating it with dark chocolate and a thick sprinkling of chopped almonds.
In addition to picking the top toffee, I was asked to choose the best packaging, best ingredient combinations, best taste, best texture, and most unique toffee. Sadly, many of the toffees were flawed. The nuts on several samples were rancid and many of the toffees were chewy, not snappy.
The winner was an easy pick: Toffee Talk based in San Francisco. The toffee had a hard crunch and buttery rich flavor. It arrived coated with high-quality dark chocolate and lots of roasted almonds. The candy maker even put roasted almonds in the toffee itself, which was a really nice touch! I’ll be curious to learn which toffee wins the Taste Awards, since I was not the only judge.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 1/2 cups skin-on almonds, finely chopped (I like to toast them first)
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1. Use the oil to generously coat the inside of a jelly-roll pan (baking sheet with sides) and the blade of a sharp knife.
2. Combine the butter, sugar, water, and salt in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Raise the temperature to medium and cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it registers 260 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the chopped almonds and cook until the candy thermometer reads 305 degrees.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the toffee into the greased jelly-roll pan, spreading the mixture with the greased knife to form an even layer, about 1/4-inch thick. If you want even pieces of toffee, score the candy by making shallow cuts across and down the candy surface to create 60 pieces (10 cuts across the widest part of the rectangle and 6 cuts down the shortest part). Once the candy has cooled cut it into the designated 60 pieces. Alternatively, you can skip the scoring, let the candy cool, and simply crack it into bite-size pieces.
4. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Place the remaining almonds in a small, shallow bowl. Line a clean baking sheet with wax paper. Working with one piece of toffee at a time, dip it in the chocolate to coat it (I use chopsticks) and then transfer it to the bowl of almonds. Roll the toffee in the almonds to coat completely before transferring it to the wax paper lined baking sheet. Repeat this process until all the toffee is coated with chocolate and nuts. Store the toffee between layers of wax paper in a cookie tin in the refrigerator for up to one month (if it lasts that long!).