Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cracking the Candy Racket: Cashew Butter Crunch


almond butter toffee
For some time, I have found myself increasingly drawn to artisan candy makers in order to get my sugar “fix”. Although at one point, standard treats from the supermarket or snack machine were enough to sate my inner candy demon, as time goes by, I am discovering that they are no longer up to the task. There is just something undeniably processed about the flavor of mass-produced foods. It’s something industrial, as if I can actually taste the conveyor belts.

That is not to say that I have given up on the snickers, starbursts and jelly bellies or that I no longer eat them. I do. By the pound. However, I am relying more and more on the products from choclatiers, online candy shops and Trader Joes (mmm, 10-pound bar of chocolate) to satisfy my cravings.

As I attempt to refine my taste for sweets, I am learning that certain artisan candies, specifically caramels and toffees, tend to be overpriced. Gourmet caramels and English toffees can cost upwards of $30.00 per pound. This is mildly absurd considering that these items are basically made from sugar, water, butter, and corn syrup combined with varying degrees and durations of heat…

Now, I understand that candy making can get a little more complex than that, but not much, which is why I have decided to stick it to these miserly sugar pushers and make my own. No longer will I allow these candy barons to get rich from exploiting their workers and gouging the market! I will not succumb to the temptation of their smoked salt caramels and blood-diamond truffles!

In all seriousness, I am actually pretty impressed with the quality of domestic chocolatiers (like Fran’s Chocolates, for instance) and if you do end up spending $30.00 for a tiny box of designer candies, you’re probably in for a real treat. Nevertheless, if I can make a product that is just as good, and for a fifth of the price, I’m gonna!

And so I present to you, my tasty toffee recipe:
cashew butter crunch toffee

Cashew Butter Crunch.
1 cups unsalted dry roasted cashews – chopped
1/4 teaspoon of salt (for the nuts) + 1/8 teaspoon of salt (for the toffee)
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla (or almond) extract

8 ounces semisweet chocolate - chopped (for the topping)

*You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe unless you are an old-school candy whiz like my grandma; in which case, we are aiming for just barely at the “hard crack” stage.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and either finely chop the cashews or pulse them a few times in a food processor.

When the nuts have been chopped, spread them on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven for about 8 minutes until lightly toasted and golden brown (FYI, if you detect the smell of toasted cashews, take them out quick; that delicious scent can quickly change to the acrid odor of nutty smoke). Sprinkle the nuts with ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Allow the toasted cashews to cool and line a 9” square baking pan (a round pie pan can work too) with aluminum foil. Evenly coat the bottom of the pan with ½ cup of the toasted nuts and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup, water, vanilla extract and the extra 1/8th teaspoon of salt in a medium sized saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the temperature on your candy thermometer reaches 299 degrees F (300 and 301 is ok but makes the brittle a little darker than I like), pay attention to the color of the candy as well.

Note: this segment of the process takes some time. Unfortunately, I forgot to time myself but I would estimate that it took about 25 minutes (it might take less or more time for you). In any case, just be patient and keep an eye on the candy thermometer because although it will take a fair bit of time to reach 280 degrees F, the temperature will shoot up rapidly after that.

When the candy has reached the desired temperature, remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the candy to the baking pan.

While the candy is cooling, finely chop the chocolate into very small bits. After the candy has cooled for about 10 minutes, place the chocolate bits on top of the candy and let them sit for another minute to allow them to melt. Then spread the chocolate using a knife or a spatula until it is evenly distributed across the top of the toffee. Now place the remaining ½ cup of chopped cashews on top of the chocolate.

Place in the refrigerator and allow to cool for 30 minutes. After it has cooled, the candy should release from the pan and the foil lining should be easy to peel off. Break into peaces, and enjoy!
cashew butter crunch toffee

Additional Thoughts
This is a recipe I have made multiple times and it always turns out fantastic. It is also pretty forgiving if your temperature is off by a couple of degrees.

These toffees have been described as “better than See’s” by my roommate’s mother and as “dancetastic” by me. This recipe is easy, fun and makes an impressive gift when artfully packaged. Make some today!

P.S. Please leave comments by clicking on the (most likely) “0 comments” line below. I know I included a lot of detail in this post but candy making actually is kinda tricky and I don’t want any one to waste precious sugar and butter because I was negligent.


Misty G said...

My mother in law brought me some Amish cashew toffee and I am completely hooked! I found myself trying to get every crumb out of the container! It just wasn't enough, I only got 4-3in by 3in squares and I had to share, so I am so excited to find this recipe! Now I will have my own stash!

I have never made any sort of hard candy, but I am going to try. This seems like such an easy thing to make, I don't have a candy thermometer, so I hope this works at least until I can get out to buy one.

Thank you sooo much for posting this recipe, I think I will make some with and without chocolate, after Christmas I am just burnt out on chocolate-anyway, thanks again! Wish me luck!

Misty Garmane
Christopher, Illinois

Kate said...

I've had the Amish cashew toffee and it is wonderful. It's made with just butter, sugar and cashews. That's the recipe I'm looking for. Minimal processing. Plus I don't want to use the corn syrup. Anyone have such a recipe?