I am a freelance writer living in Gloucestershire. I have been writing family style articles in the form of columns for newspapers since 2000 and spent four years presenting an interview chat show on Forest of Dean Radio.
Published November 12th 2012
Get your teeth into mum's toffee
Are you going to make me some bonfire toffee Mum, to take back to Uni?" said Eldest Son.
You can't let him take the whole batch" chorused Eldest Daughter and 18 Year Old. "That wouldn't be fair".
It would be reasonable to think on hearing this conversation that "above mentioned children" were not in fact aged 18, 20 and 22, but were still of an age where squabbling, if not acceptable, would at least be expected.
Bonfire toffee is a tradition that goes back through the generations in our house. My mother made it, and her mother made it. It is an incredibly simple recipe and it tastes divine. It can be made at any time of the year, but in our house it has always come out on bonfire night: the 5th November. That, in recent years at least, has usually started a little trend in toffee making which lasts for a sort while after bonfire night.
Technically, genuine bonfire toffee should perhaps be made with treacle, but personally I prefer it made with golden syrup. And I have to say, at the risk of being disloyal to my favourite confectioners "Thornton's" (and I even went to school with two of the Thornton family, and one of them later followed me to university, so I do know my "Thornton's" toffees well), on a good day, this toffee does give them a run for their money. Of course they do have the advantage of big factories and quality control, whereas I cook in a kitchen with half broken cooker, but ... eldest son still asks for a batch every time he returns to Uni.
Part of the making process is that everyone in the family gets a toffee spoon. These can be eaten while the main batch sets, and gives the assembled company a taster of what is to come.
Now there have been times when family members have exceeded available teaspoons. I once made the mistake of using a plastic teaspoon as a substitute. Not very sensible. I won't repeat that one.
There is always pride involved in cooking too, and so to deny Eldest Son a batch to take back to Uni would be silly. I can't say that I mind him sharing my toffee around his friends. It gives me a warm glow inside, and that's not just from the toffee that hasn't completely cooled.
And so, we compromised. I made two batches of toffee and eldest son went back with his own big bag. Then, we all had toffee spoons and plenty of toffee.
250g/ 8 oz butter (See note*)
250g/ 8 oz soft dark brown sugar
250g/ 8 oz golden syrup (or treacle if preferred, or combination of the two.)
1 tsp vinegar.
Pinch of salt for taste. (And no, it's not bad for you in small quantities, and it brings out the flavour of many things sweet as our grandmothers knew.)
Melt the ingredients together and stir continuously over a high heat. I personally have never had a toffee thermometer and don't actually know how to use one. Instead I stir the toffee until it is boiling at a very high temperature.**
When I believe it is nearing completion I put a tiny blob onto a saucer filled with cold water. If it sets, then it is ready. If it goes to liquid, keep cooking. After a few batches you get the hang of it. Ideally you also want a bit of My Mum's drama thrown in at this point. I always remember as a child, the vigorous stirring, the sweat pouring from her brow and the precise moment at which she declared "the toffee is ready."
And if somebody phones you at this moment, ignore it, even if it is the Queen. She would understand that it would ruin a perfectly good batch of toffee were you to walk away from the stove.
Once the toffee is at setting point, turn it out into a 8in/ 20cm square baking tray. If this is metal, it will need to be greased. Recently I have tended to use a silicon one. This has the advantage of being completely flexible when the toffee is set, and doesn't need greasing, which, for me, makes better toffee.
When the toffee is half set, score it into bite sized pieces.
NOTE: The best batches are the ones made with real butter. If you are using an non butter alternative then make sure that the fat content is over 75%. For vegans this can be more difficult to achieve. Earth Balance buttery sticks appear to meet the target but seem to be hard to find in the UK.
** However keen they might be, please do not let your young children get involved here. It is incredibly dangerous when hot.
Thanks Sally! We are in Australia, whilst living in the UK I brought my Dad Thorntons Toffee on several visits back home. Now Im home he always asks if I could somehow get him some, which is quite an expensive exercise when Im half a planet away from Old Blightey! Now I have the recipie, yay!
Am off to buy a silicon tray/pan today, then will be delighted to make fabulous, delicious, scrumptious toffee.
It will be excellent to make for Christmas gifts this year, as I believe in: "If you can't eat it or drink it, don't give it"
I just made this after hunting down a recipe that wasn't just sugar + water + heat...I wanted that rich buttery but dark flavour and oh boy have I got it with this! Really easy recipe and seriously tasty - easily rivals Thornton's own!
I have been looking decades for the CWA 'Russian Toffee' recipe which is to die for. And I thought this might be it. However, it needs a tin of condensed milk and then I think it might be pretty close to it. A dash of vanilla as it starts to cool. But be warned. It is addictive and you will crave it the rest of your life. It is not a fudge. It is hard that will be chewy and buttery in the mouth.