I met my BFF while we were in college in Montreal. For a period, we were inseparable. We could spend seven hours a day in school, enjoy a fishbowl margarita over happy hour at some pub on the way home, and then phone each other and talk for longer still. I remember we would watch the best TV show at the time, Twin Peaks, and call each other every single commercial break and discuss: ‘oh-my-god-can-you-believe-what-just-happened?-I-can’t-believe-she-did-that!-okay-it-started-again-call-you-back-later.’ Seriously. It was amazing.
So he lives in New York now and I live in Toronto. He travels a lot for work and he loves sending me little packages gathered from locations like Paris, London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Popular items are sticky notes from Muji (no storefront yet in Toronto) and unfamiliar confections in cryptic packaging. They’re always much appreciated and treasured.
When I can, I like to return the favour. Unfortunately, with New York as his hometown and a job that takes him around the world, it’s difficult finding something unique or special. He does have one weakness, though, and it’s for something that you can only find in Canada: Laura Secord’s Buttercrunch toffee.
Laura Secord is a Canadian chocolate shop named, ironically, after an American-born war heroine ingrained in Canadian folklore. They have 190 shops across Canada and none on U.S. soil.
The image above is taken from the Laura Secord website and pretty much tells you all you need to know about it. It’s crunchy and chocolaty and nutty and buttery and perfect. I try to send him a box of it once and again. My neighbourhood store didn’t always carry it when I wanted to send him some. But how about actually making the stuff? This, of course, was a challenge I could not resist; if it was so simple and basic, how hard would it be to recreate? I mean, home-made should beat store-bought any day, right?
Unfortunately, and despite all of my culinary savvy and daring-do, candy is my Achilles’ heel. Anything, actually, that involves a certain amount of alchemy to occur at a precise temperature has defeated me too many times to count. Even jams tend to alarm me and, never one to trust “the set”, I often dump a crap-load of pectin in the pot to absolutely guarantee I won’t end up with jars of strawberry soup. Go figure. And it was because of this handicap that I wasn’t keen on tackling such a seemingly simple treat.
Then wouldn’t you know: hair stylist to the rescue. My friend, Mark, who works so hard to make my hair look its best had also trained as a chef and is a fellow foodie. And every Christmas, he delights his loyal customers with a satchel of the most delicious version of buttercrunch toffee that I’ve had. Yum and yum. I finally worked up the courage to ask him for the recipe and he passed it along without hesitation.
The recipe is from the cookbook Spago Chocolate, written by the pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant and certainly has a life of its own in the virtual world. I apologize for cluttering up the blogosphere with it but couldn’t resist because it was actually a success for me. I was loyal to the recipe but added some tips in italics throughout. Trust them. No shortcuts. It will make your life (at least for the duration of this recipe) that much easier.
And the verdict? I didn’t bother coating both sides of the toffee like Laura Secord does, but I rationalized that as a calorie-saving measure. Even still, it was scrumptious. And I liked knowing exactly what went into it. Funnily, we preferred it straight from the freezer…so even that one step towards self-control went out the window. But it’s not like I’ll be making it every week, right? Although the holidays are nearly upon us. And it’s nice to have a sweet little treat handy for an unexpected guest. Oh, and I do have that block of Callebaut chocolate waiting to be used up. And don’t I have some more almonds…?
For the recipe, read on…
Chocolate Almond Toffee
Makes 1 2-pound block, 11 x 16 inches10 ounces whole, unblanched almonds
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup dark rum
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces Equipment: 1 or 2 baking trays 12 x 17 inches, offset spatula,
small deep saucepan, candy thermometer, long-handled wooden
spoon, medium heatproof bowl
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, with rack in centre position.
2. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and bake until toasted, about 15 minutes, turning the nuts after 7 or 8 minutes to ensure even toasting. Watch closely. Cool and then finely chop by hand. You should have about 2 cups. Divide into two equal portions and set aside. Clean the baking tray. Line baking tray with Silpat or silicon mat and coat both sides of an offset spatula with vegetable spray. Set aside.
3. Make the toffee: Place the sugar in a small deep saucepan (emphasis on “deep” as the mixture will definitely foam up dangerously high). Add the corn syrup and rum, and over medium heat, bring to a boil. Let boil until large bubbles form on the surface, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cover with lid and boil 5 minutes longer.
4. Add the pieces of butter and continue cooking, uncovered, over medium heat until the temperature reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes. Make sure the tip of the thermometer is not resting on the bottom of the saucepan or you will get a false reading. Remove from the heat and immediately add the salt, baking soda, and 1 cup of the chopped nuts. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Make sure you don’t have any lumps of baking soda left.
5. Pour the toffee mixture on the prepared baking tray and, using the offset spatula, spread the mixture out, making a block about 11 x 16 inches. The toffee will thicken very quickly, so work as fast as you can. When it’s cool, blot some of the excess vegetable spray and butter with a clean towel.
6. While the toffee mixture is cooling, in a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. When almost melted, turn off the heat and let the chocolate continue to melt, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.
7. When you can pick up the block of toffee in one piece, transfer it to a flat work surface or to a clean baking tray. Pour the melted chocolate over the toffee, spreading to cover the entire block of toffee. Before the chocolate cools, sprinkle the remaining chopped nuts over the chocolate and gently press. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes to set the chocolate. Shake off any nuts that haven’t adhered to the chocolate.
8. Return the block of toffee to the work surface and break it up into easy-to-enjoy pieces.