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Almond Roca – English Toffee

Just a few days before Christmas and I finally got the break in the weather I’ve been daily checking for the entire month of December. Oh joy!! It’s a Festivus miracle!!

Weather is always my biggest obstacle when trying to make almond roca (English Toffee). I remember as a kid, my mom would check outside every day to see if it was going to be cold and dry. She never made almond roca unless the sky was clear, the temperature cold and the humidity low. Which, in Seattle is sometimes just one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the conditions were right, my mom would drop everything and make this recipe. I’ve learned to do the same – otherwise, it doesn’t get made. For more details on the science behind weather conditions and the effect they have on candy, see the * at the end of this post.

My first Christmas as a new mom, I woke up one morning to perfect toffee making weather. Knowing this was probably my one chance to make it, I decided to try to whip together the candy while my daughter was sleeping. I didn’t yet know that anytime you try to do something when a baby is napping, they wake up. Just when my candy reached the proper temperature, Madison started screaming hysterically (of course). Flustered, I grabbed the wrong pan (one with no rim around it) and poured the 300 degree candy onto it. The molten liquid flowed right off the edge and all over my stove-top. With my bare hand, I grabbed the pan to get it over the sink to stop the mess. Unfortunately for me, in the few moments the candy had been touching the metal, it had absorbed the heat and was searing hot. As the burning metal scorched my skin, I dropped the pan, splattering the remaining candy all over the kitchen – all the while feeling like a terrible mother because my daughter was still crying. Ah, memories. Needless to say, the almond roca didn’t get made that year.

Anyway, this stuff is awesome enough that not even a baby-screaming-hand-burnt-cooled-candy-everywhere debacle can keep me from it.  Almond Roca will always be a clear-cold day tradition in my home. It’s just too amazing. I have to make it. Candy can be intimidating if you’ve never made it before, so I’ve included some tips to help you get the perfect batch!

1. A rolling boil looks like this. Your sugar/butter mixture should be to this point before adding the first half of the almonds. Have everything prepped before you turn on the burner. You have to stir the mixture constantly once it comes to a boil, and it will suddenly change color at the end once it gets close to the right temperature.

Rolling Boil

2. On the right is what your almonds should look like when you purchase them. Chop them roughly until they look like the pile on the left. Your walnuts should be chopped smaller than the almonds. I separate my nuts into three bowls prior to bringing the butter sugar mixture to a boil so that I don’t accidentally dump the wrong stuff in.
Bowl One: 3/4 C almonds
Bowl Two: 3/4 C almonds + 1/2 C walnuts
Bowl Three: 1/2 C walnuts

Left, chopped Right, pre-chop

3. Once I have my candy all spread out and cooling – I sprinkle it with half the chocolate chips. I let the candy’s heat melt them and then spread them out, sprinkling with the walnuts while the chocolate is still sticky. Then I only have to melt the chocolate for one side…and don’t have to allow the candy to cool, spread with chocolate, cool again, flip, spread with chocolate. Using the heat of the candy saves me at least an hour. I’m a fan of that.

Melting Chocolate - the lazy way

4. The worst part about candy making is what it does to your pan. As soon as you pour out the roca, fill your pan with water and put it right back on the stove. Once the water is almost boiling, use a wooden spoon to scrape the candy bits off the edges of your pan. Trust me on this. I spent years wasting countless hours scrubbing the cooled hardened candy off my pans before I discovered this easy way to clean them.

Cooled Crusted Candy

Ultimately, this recipe produces the most buttery rich crunchy amazing toffee you’ll ever eat. Totally worth all the effort! People will beg you to make it at Christmas time. And you too will begin checking the weather for the perfect Almond Roca day.

Almond Roca

Almond Roca

2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup milk chocolate chips

1. In a large saucepan, bring sugar, water, butter and salt to a full rolling boil over medium heat. Add half the almonds.
2. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches 295-300 degrees (I like mine right at about 298 – an instant read thermometer is a must here).
3. Remove from heat. Stir in the rest of the almonds and 1/2 of the walnuts.
4. Pour onto greased shallow pan (with a rim) and cool.
5. Brush both sides with melted chocolate and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.

*When making any candy, you have to bring your ingredients to a certain temperature in order for it to set properly. On rainy (or humid) days, the cooking time for candy can increase substantially. Candy making requires the perfect ratio of sugar to moisture and since you’re boiling the mixture longer to get the temperature up, you may lose all your moisture in the process. And you get a completely opposite problem once the candy is done and cooling. Because sugar attracts moisture, your cooling candy will absorb all that humidity in the air, making the finished product softer than you want it.

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