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LOST ITALIAN: Toffee a terrific treat and homemade gift idea for holidays

FARGO -- Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you are as excited as we are to welcome the holiday baking season, which officially begins this weekend in our home. This week's featured recipe is one of our family's all-time favorite holiday treats, which I...

Chocolate-covered toffee with chopped almonds.Dave Wallis / Forum News Service
Chocolate-covered toffee with chopped almonds. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service
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FARGO - Happy Thanksgiving!

We hope you are as excited as we are to welcome the holiday baking season, which officially begins this weekend in our home. This week's featured recipe is one of our family's all-time favorite holiday treats, which I like to call Marilyn's Best Toffee.

My mother, Marilyn, has been making this toffee for the past 40-plus years, and it is a wonderful combination of crunchy, chocolatey, buttery goodness. The recipe yields about 1½ pounds of toffee, and stores well for at least a month, making it perfect for gift-giving.

The original recipe came from the 1975 holiday edition of Better Homes and Gardens, and has been modified only slightly to suit our tastes. In that recipe, both sides of the toffee are covered with chocolate and finely chopped nuts, but my mother, whose food instincts are always spot-on, found that this tended to overpower the toffee, so we only coat one side. This results not only in a better taste experience, but also favors presentation by allowing a contrast of colors and textures in the toffee.

While we almost always recommend using unsalted butter when cooking, especially in any kind of baking, this recipe is an exception as the salt in the butter provides a nice balance to the sweetness of the toffee. Butter of any kind freezes well, so be sure to take advantage of any holiday sales to stock up.

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My mother was the recipient of a Betty Crocker scholarship back in 1964, and she is an endless source of tips and ideas for me. One of my favorite tips from her is to save the empty butter wrappers, either in the freezer or fridge, to use for greasing baking sheets and pans instead of cooking spray. When making this toffee, I use one butter wrapper to grease the baking sheet and store the other in the freezer for later use.

Making candy can be intimidating, but this recipe is simple and straightforward. My best advice is to prepare all of the ingredients before starting, and use a candy thermometer to ensure an accurate temperature reading. As long as you pay attention throughout the process, and follow the recipe, success is almost guaranteed.

The toffee consists of salted butter, sugar, water, corn syrup and blanched-slivered almonds, which I toast before using. The butter, sugar, water and corn syrup are cooked over medium heat to "hard crack stage," or 300 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Once this temperature is reached, I remove the pan from the burner and immediately stir in one cup of coarsely chopped almonds before spreading the toffee onto a greased baking sheet. The toffee will harden quickly, so I'll tilt the pan back and forth to help it spread evenly, using a rubber spatula to smooth it into the corners.

For the topping, we melt a large bar (4½ ounces) of Hershey's chocolate, and you could use any good melting chocolate.

If using nuts, too, we recommend chopping them finely into much smaller pieces than the nuts that go into the toffee. This toffee is best when stored in metal tins, which you can find nearly everywhere right now (I love to stock up at the dollar stores).

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to my mother, who is my best food mentor, for all the love and great food she has given me and my family over the years.

We hope you enjoy Marilyn's Best Toffee and wish you a warm and happy Thanksgiving!

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Marilyn's Best Toffee

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, salted
1⅓ cups sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 cup coarsely chopped blanched, slivered almonds, toasted

Topping
2 4½-ounce milk chocolate candy bars, melted (1 bar will do if only covering one side of the toffee)
1 cup finely chopped blanched, slivered almonds, toasted (optional)

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread 2 cups of slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer, and toast in oven for 5 to 8 minutes until nuts are lightly golden and aromatic. Remove from oven and cool. Chop one cup of the almonds coarsely, for the toffee part, and one cup finely for the topping.

Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking sheet; set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add sugar, water and corn syrup, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, to hard crack stage - 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the cup of coarsely chopped almonds. Pour toffee onto greased baking sheet, using a rubber spatula to quickly smooth toffee to the edges. Cool thoroughly.

As the toffee cools, break the chocolate into pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt on high, in 20 second intervals, stirring between each, until fully melted.

Turn toffee out onto parchment or wax paper. Spread the flat top with half the melted chocolate, then sprinkle with half the finely chopped almonds. If coating both sides, cover the top with wax paper, then invert and spread remaining chocolate and nuts on the other side. If necessary, chill to firm the chocolate.

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To serve, use a knife to break the toffee into bite size pieces. Transfer to an airtight container (metal tins are best) and store in a cool, dry place for at least one month.

Sarah's Tips

- Use a candy thermometer for best results.

- After breaking up the toffee into pieces, save the small broken bits and toffee dust to use in other treats like ice cream, cookies, muffins and brownies.

Related Topics: RECIPESFOOD
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