Toffee

Copyright © 2000 Sarah Phillips Sarah Phillips, Inc. All rights reserved.
Foolproof Toffee RecipeToffee is a hard but chewy, caramel colored noncrystalline candy made by cooking sugar, water (or cream or milk) and usually butter or other fat. Other ingredients such as nuts or chocolate are sometimes added. Depending on the recipe, a toffee mixture may be cooked to anywhere from 236 degrees F to 300 degrees F measured with a Candy Thermometer, or called the Hard Ball Stage. It is when syrup is dropped into ice water and forms a hard ball which holds its shape on removal but is still plastic.

Malted Milk, Sponge or Sea Foam Candy RecipeSponge Candy or Fairy or Angel Food Candy is a mouthwatering type of aerated hard candy (toffee) with an inside that tastes somewhat like molasses and caramelized sugar. It's texture is very unusual in that it is crisp at first and then melts away in your mouth. It is thought to have originated in the eastern Great Lakes area of the United States, and is known under various names, such as Sea Foam Candy, Puff Candy, Cinder Toffee, Honey Comb and more, in different parts of the country and world.

This candy is basically made with boiled sugar (white or brown) and corn syrup or molasses. After being taken off the heat, some baking soda and vinegar are added to foam it up or react to form carbon dioxide which is trapped in the highly viscous mixture. The lattice structure is formed while the sugar is liquid, then the toffee sets hard which makes the interior look like a sponge. The finished Sponge Candy is often enrobed with chocolate to help maintain its freshness and add another flavor dimension. If you do, make sure you cover the entire candy. If moisture or humidity gets inside, the center loses that honeycomb texture or they get mushy or can get damp and dry out, getting hard as a rock.

The name varieties:

  • Honeycomb Toffee (Great Britain)
  • Honeycomb (South Africa, Australia, Great Britain)
  • Yellow Man (Northern Ireland)
  • Puff Candy (Scotland)
  • Golden Crunchers (region unknown)
  • Hokey Pokey (New Zealand)
  • Sponge Candy (Quebec, Canada & northwest PA and western NY, USA)
  • Sea Foam (ME, WA, OR, UT, CA, MI)
  • Fairy Food Candy/Angel Food Candy (WI)
  • Bonfire Toffee/Cinder Toffee (Britain)
  • Turkish Honey (Hungary)

PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

1. Separation - The Most Common Toffee Pitfall: Toffee sometimes separates during cooking or when spread onto the pan, leaving a buttery layer on the surface and a thicker mixture underneath. This is caused when the liquid in the mixture evaporating too quickly, or stirring the mixture too fast leading to the liquid and fat separating.

Salt in the recipe seems to stabilize the mixture. Use salted butter, or if you use unsalted butter add ¼ teaspoon of salt per stick of butter.

Be patient because candy takes a long time to cook. Don't rush the process by turning up the heat. Stir slowly and gently during the final stages of cooking.

If the butter toffee does separate:
A. Continue to stir the mixture. The toffee may remix on its own. Lower the heat, slowly stir, so not to splash yourself with "really hot butter" until it comes back together. 
B. If gentle stirring doesn't work, add hot water, a tablespoon at a time, while the mixture cooks. Add no more than a total ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) to recipe calling for 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter. Add water slowly and carefully as the water can cause the hot candy mixture to splatter. Adding the hot water lowers the temperature of the toffee mixture; therefore, continue to stir and cook the toffee until it reaches the correct temperature.

2. Burning Toffee: The color of butter toffee should be a rich golden amber color. The toffee continues to change color and becomes darker as the temperature rises. If toffee cooks to too high a temperature and the toffee is dark in color, unfortunately, there is no way to save this batch of toffee.
Ways to prevent this from happening include:

If you use a Candy Thermometer test it for accuracy. 
 
Use medium heat.  

Use correct size of heavy-gauge saucepan.

3. Crystallization: One of the greatest frustrations in toffee making comes when a smooth syrup turns quickly into a grainy mass. This is caused by sugar crystals that have formed on the sides of the pan in the process of being stirred down into the syrup.

Here are several ways to prevent crystallization:

Dissolve sugar completely before mixture boils.  

If you notice any crystals on the side of the pan, brush them down into the syrup with a pastry brush dipped into hot water or tightly cover the saucepan and let the mixture cook for about 3 minutes. This causes steam, thereby melting the sugar crystals that may have adhered to the sides of the pan. 
 
Avoid stirring syrup once it begins to boil unless the recipe instructs otherwise. 

QUESTION: I sometimes have trouble with the chocolate popping off the top of the batch of toffee after it has cooled. Sometimes I put it in freezer to cool it or store it, and sometimes it will pop off. (Not usually) Is this because of humidity, temperature, brand of chocolate or what?"
SARAH SAYS: That's a good question about the coating of chocolate popping off the toffee. The toffee was a bit too greasy when the chocolate was applied. That happens sometimes if the fat in the recipe separates for whatever reason. (Like with buttercrunch.) I always make sure that I dry the surface of the candy well with lint-free absorbent towels just before applying the tempered chocolate otherwise, the chocolate kind of floats on a layer of fat. Also, have the toffee at room temperature before you pour the chocolate on top and when you break-it up to serve. Barry Marcus, baking911.com Candy Expert and Chef Instructor, Institute of Culinary Education, New York

QUESTION: Sarah: I'm also having problems with the toffee separating (I read your explanation that you posted from the previous reader). Also, sometimes it looks as though the toffee is fine and then when I pour it into the pan and it sits for a few minutes, it is very grainy and I have to throw it away. What causes this grainy texture? Am I not cooking it long enough or is it too long? Could it be the butter I'm using? I'm using unsalted butter. I ran out of unsalted one time and used Challenge European Style unsalted butter, but that didn't work either. The box said it had less moisture and more butterfat so could this be the problem? What does the corn syrup in your full-proof recipe do? Will it help to adhere the toffee together so it doesn't separate so much. Also, I live at almost 5,400 ft. in altitude. How much more or less do I need to cook my toffee if, for example, the recipe calls for me to cook it until 300 degrees? Any help and insight you can give me would be very much appreciated! Thank you! And, I will try your recipe too!
SARAH SAYS: In order for toffee to not separate, you have to keep stirring ALL THE TIME -- not fast, but keep it moving. The minute you stop, the fat wants to separate out. The graininess is caused by not having enough butter in the recipe -- try adding a teaspoon or two more -- the fat prevents the graininess or sugar crystallization from occurring -- but this is a balancing act because I'm not sure how much more butter you really need -- it could be a teaspoon. When you pour the toffee, "pour it thin"; that is, onto a larger area so it is thinner and cools more quickly. The thicker it is and the longer it takes to cool, the more it will tend to separate. When it does cool, take a paper towel and wipe off the excess fat (from some separation, which is normal). At your altitude, cook the mixture about 4 to 5 degrees F lower. Let me know what happens. - Barry Marcus, baking911.com Candy Expert and Chef Instructor, Institute of Culinary Education, New York

FOLLOW-UP: Thank you so much for your long explanation and answers to ALL my toffee questions. I tried the Foolproof Toffee Recipe that you recommended and stirred it for the entire time, constantly, but slowly and gently, not fast. When I have stirred it fast in the past, it has separated. Your recipe came out wonderfully and did not separate!!!!! If any of you are looking for a fool-proof recipe as Sarah suggested, please try her recipe! I will also try another toffee recipe that does not call for corn syrup (only butter, sugar and water) and will try using an extra tsp. of butter as you suggested. Thank you for your help! I'm going to the bookstore today to purchase your new book, Baking 9-1-1!