Saturday, December 11, 2010
The caramel flavor and color, so reminiscent of candies like toffee and brittles is not from the sugar caramelizing...because it doesn't. It's from a complex series of reactions between proteins and sugars called the Maillard reaction or Maillard browning. The Maillard reaction is not only responsible for the browning in confections, but in many of our favorite foods and beverages. Toffee contains some important ingredients: sugar, water, corn syrup, a dairy product (which can be just butter, but in this case I used sweetened condensed milk), butter, and flavoring that will react together to produce the crunchy caramel. Pouring this mixture over chopped roasted almonds and then, spreading bittersweet chocolate over it and finally a sprinkling of more almonds makes this a very special gift in your food boxes.
Before beginning any candy confection, make sure you have on hand a heavy 6-quart saucepan and a candy thermometer--the ingredients need to reach a temperature of 290F-degrees, which is a soft-crack stage, and a candy thermometer is a must. Also, because this mixture needs to be stirred constantly, investing in a silicon spoon or spatula would be a great addition, but as my mother used, a wooden spoon will also do.
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 cup Light Karo Syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
1 T Vanilla Extract
2 cups toasted and finely chopped slivered almonds
6 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate Bits
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees and toast almonds for 6-8 minutes. When cooled, chopped finely. Spread half of the almonds on a buttered-prepared 12 x 17-inch baking sheet. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugars, condensed milk, Karo syrup, and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, with a heat-proof rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
Attached candy thermometer to the side, making sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to medium and continuing to stir constantly, check thermometer and when the mixture reaches 290F-degrees remove from heat. Add the salt and the vanilla.
Confections like candy, cookies, fruited breads, and jams are just some of my favorites to share with friends and family. I'd love to hear about your traditions and what you're baking for the holiday. Enjoy!