Pecan-Topped Toffee

I was positive that I had already posted a recipe for this toffee but it turns out I had imagined the whole thing!

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I was so certain because this is my absolute favorite sweet treat to make during the holidays. After getting over an initial fear of boiling hot sugar and butter to the hard crack stage, it is actually very, very simple and very, very rewarding.

I have very fond memories of making this toffee around Christmas with Popo over every school break for as long as I can remember. The process was always the same and the taste of it always takes me back to those happy childhood moments. As a result, I have become a toffee snob and will always hold this recipe in the highest regard even though it is literally four simple ingredients.

I remember hovering near Popo who would stir, stir, stir for what seemed like forever. I would gladly help with the first few minutes of stirring but as soon as it started bubbling more fiercely, I would immediately pass the wooden spoon back to her. The air was permeated by a rich caramel smell that hovered on the brink of being too burnt before it immediately hit a foil-lined baking sheet and was topped with a generous portion of chocolate chips that were then patted gently into the hot candy and nudged back and forth with a knife until they became a glossy pool of melted chocolate. Finally, it was evenly sprinkled with pecans which are one of the few exceptions I make in adding nuts in desserts. Then it would have to chill in the fridge to cool down before my sister Kristen and I could break it into sizable chunks and take a first bite into this dentists’ nightmare.

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It look me up until two years ago to finally get the courage to try it on my own and it’s hard to believe how easy it is. It is literally the only thing I ever use my candy thermometer for. And more than anything, that is the essential tool you need to make this. It is crucial that the sugar and butter reaches 300ºF (hard crack stage) before you immediately pull it off the heat. Any higher and it will burn and any lower it will be too tacky and your teeth will never forgive you. So unless you possess the magical ability to tell soft crack stage from hard crack stage, invest in a candy thermometer before making this recipe. I like this one the best.

The original recipe calls to line a 9”x9” baking sheet with foil. But as I’ve always known Popo to use a 9”x13” sheet pan, that is what I am accustomed to. This larger pan allows for pieces that have room to spread out and become slightly thinner so in the end, there are a larger variety of sizes and shapes to choose from. I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for the perfect piece of toffee to satisfy my Christmas sweet tooth.

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Thankfully, this can be made over and over during the holidays because from experience, it disappears just as quickly as it was made.


Pecan-Topped Toffee

Recipe from an old Sunset Magazine cutout that has been photocopied many, many times.

Yields: about 36 pieces

Notes

The original recipe calls for filberts (aka hazelnuts) but I never knew Popo to ever top this toffee with hazelnuts (probably too expensive?). Pecans were always the nut of choice, but walnuts or almonds would also work in this recipe. It also calls for milk chocolate but you can use any chocolate of your choice. I always have had a preference for semi/bitter/dark to balance out the sweetness.

To help lessen the burning of the hot butter and sugar, I find that constantly moving the thermometer around the edge of the pot helps to better circulate the heat. It’s called the toffee dance—embrace it.

After you make the toffee, you are left with a pot coated with almost-burnt sugar and a candy thermometer and wooden spoon that are threatening to permanently stick themselves to the pot forever. To make clean-up easy, simply fill your pot three-quarters full with water and bring to a boil. By the time the water is ready to bubble, the sugar will have dissolved away.

Above all, be very careful as nothing is worse than a sugar burn! Mise en place is also very important for this recipe as well. Have your nuts toasted and pre-chopped, chocolate measured out and baking sheet lined with foil so you aren’t fumbling around once your candy thermometer hits 300ºF and you have to act fast.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup toasted and finely chopped pecans

  • ½ pound (1 cup or 2 sticks) butter

  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

  • 1½ cups semi or bittersweet chocolate chips

Essential Tools

  • Candy thermometer

Steps

To toast nuts, preheat oven to 350ºF. Place nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 5-10 minutes or until they are golden brown and smell fragrant. Watch them carefully as they can easily burn quickly. Set aside to cool slightly and then chop finely.

In the meantime line a 9”x13” sheet pan with foil and set aside. In a deep and heavy bottom saucepan, stir butter and brown sugar with a wooden spoon on medium high heat. Stir constantly, adding in your candy thermometer once the mixture starts bubbling. To help lessen the burning of the hot butter and sugar, constantly move the thermometer around the edge of the pot to help circulate the heat. Once the mixture reaches 300ºF (hard crack stage), immediately pour it on the foil-lined baking sheet.

Evenly sprinkle chocolate chips on top of the hot candy. Gently pat them in with the back of a knife and spread into a smooth flat layer. Top with chopped pecans, again gently patting the nuts into the chocolate. Chill in the fridge until the chocolate is firm. Remove foil and break apart into small, irregular pieces. Store in the fridge in an airtight container until ready to eat.