Each December, my mother goes on her annual baking extravaganza, an event that is known far and wide, from Mill Valley, California to Southwest Scotland. She bakes everything from Russian tea cakes to popcorn balls, fudge, sugar cookies, magic bars, cinnamon bun wreaths, baklava, and gingerbread men. But her fame in the kitchen comes from one recipe...toffee.
Taking the classic Wilton recipe, she sprinkled her magic in it, perfecting it over the course of decades. Instead of nuts only on top, she layers them on the bottom as well for a doubly nutty crunch. The recipe notes walnuts but she swears by almonds for the "almond roca effect". And no evidence exists on record but I'm quite sure she is a liberal woman when it comes butter.
She then pulls a stool up to the stove and stirs her butter and sugar for a good 40 minutes until it hits the magic number of 290 degrees F. With half her almonds on a baking sheet nearby, she carefully covers them with molten hot toffee.
Depending on the group or individual recipient, she'll use milk or semisweet chocolate. I personally love the darker, more bitter chocolate against the super sweet toffee but I happen to know of a Scotsman who prefers milk. She tailors each batch with love, that woman does. Your wish is her command.
She works quickly so each layer is sure to stick to the next—this recipe definitely emphasizes temperature exactness and a fast hand. I'm sure my mother has suffered some toffee scars in her life...all for the love of the game.
It's the most awe-inspiring presentation that honestly brings people to their knees. And it's that moment that she waits for, that brings her back to the toffee year after year. You make it once and people will remember. You've been warned.
Adapted from The Complete Wilton Book of Candy
1 lb. salted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
3-4 cups finely chopped nuts, crisped (we use walnuts or almonds)
1 lb. chocolate, chopped (we use semisweet or milk)
*You will need a candy thermometer
**You can use half the nuts suggested if you prefer just the top layer of nuts and none on the bottom
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Chop nuts and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once oven is done preheating, turn it off and place baking sheet inside for 8 minutes. Remove and let cool.
2. Butter a heavy 12" x 18" baking sheet and sprinkle with half the crisped nuts, about 1 1/2-2 cups, making a loose oval shape (or any shape you want, just keep the nuts somewhat together). Set aside.
3. Cut butter in thin slices and melt in a heavy, three-quart (3 liter) saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and continue cooking, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to 290 degrees F, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Pour hot butter/sugar mixture over prepared baking sheet of nuts; just cover the nuts, not the entire baking sheet (or it will be hard to get out). Spread toffee around gently to cover any exposed nuts or pockets of air.
5. While toffee is warm, sprinkle with chocolate evenly and spread with the back of a metal spoon.
6. While chocolate is still melting, sprinkle remainder of nuts, about 1 1/2-2 cups, on top. Nuts should stick to chocolate with some loose crumbs.
7. Let cool at room temperature until firm, about 30 minutes.
Important: The easiest way to break the slab into pieces is by using the heel of a butter knife and cracking it all over in big chunks. I always write this in the card when I give it as a gift, otherwise people will lose half the nuts and melt the chocolate in the process of breaking it with their hands.