Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Candy is Dandy...

...especially when you make it with your own two hands! And if you manage to find a good recipe, it can be quicker than liquor ;)

Some of my cooking projects turn out to be like governmental panchavarshik yojana (5-year plans)- grand plans that may or may not ever materialize. This whole idea of learning to make candy at home has been only two years in the making. It all started when Cathy came to tea bearing a box of toffee, the recipe for which she had learnt from David Lebovitz in a cooking class. Cathy claimed that this candy was very easy to make, but when Cathy says things like that, I don't believe her for a second. This is a person who makes adorable felted bunnies and spins tea towels from scratch. She recently finished baking her way through an entire cookbook, bringing a new cookie in to her workplace nearly every Monday for 3 years. In short, Cathy is not your average person...not by a long shot.

Turns out that she was not kidding about the candy, however. Soon after I tasted Cathy's candy, in an incredible stroke of luck, David Lebovitz posted that candy recipe on his blog, with a wonderful detailed post for wannabe candy-makers (read it carefully-twice-before attempting this candy). Apart from ingredients like sugar, butter, nuts and chocolate, the only investment this recipe needs is a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the syrup and determine when it has been cooked to the right stage.

What is candy? Cooked sugar, essentially. The simple things are always the most deceptive; candy-making is sheer physical chemistry, and pages 680-693 of Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" provide a fascinating glimpse into the science of candy (the number of pages giving an idea of how much technicality there is to discuss). Is a candy thermometer essential? No. The time-honored method of cooling the syrup quickly (in a bowl of cold water) and testing its stage (soft ball/hard ball/soft crack/hard crack...no I did not make these names up) works just fine. But a candy thermometer makes life a lot easier for the less experienced cook like me- having to judge the balls of syrup and making up your mind about the stage of the syrup while the rest of it is still boiling away can be stressful. I bought a sturdy-looking analog Pyrex candy thermometer for 8$ and it is well worth it.

Choco-Nut Buttercrunch Toffee

bccandy1
(adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe)
1. Coarsely chop 2 C toasted nuts. I used pecans and almonds and chopped them in the food processor. For the next batch I will use 1.5 C nuts, use only almonds and chop them by hand; the food processor resulted in some nut powder and nut pieces that were quite uneven.
2. Lightly grease a 8x10 inch (or so) rectangle on a baking sheet. Spread half the chopped nuts on the sheet and leave the other half aside.
3. Chop 5 oz fair-trade bittersweet chocolate and set it aside.
4. Also place nearby coarse salt crystals (for sprinkling), 1/4 t baking soda and 1 t vanilla extract.
5. In a medium heavy saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine 1 stick (1/2 C) butter cut into small pieces, 1 1/4 C sugar, a dollop of molasses, a hefty pinch of salt and 2 T water. Heat with minimum or no stirring until the temperature reads 300F (hard crack stage). This took perhaps 10-15 minutes, and the syrup was at a great boil by that time, although it thankfully it did not boil over the sides of the pan.
6. Once the temp is reached, take syrup off the heat, stir in vanilla and baking soda and pour it all over the nuts on the baking sheet. I was thrilled that the syrup flowed very well and spread itself quite nicely.
7. Scatter the chocolate bits all over the syrup. Let them melt for a couple of minutes and then spread the chocolate all over with a table knife or spatula.
8. Sprinkle with coarse salt and the remaining nuts. Press the nuts in gently so that they will set into the chocolate. Let it cool down. After 1.5 hours, the chocolate had still not set so I put the sheet in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to help it along. Refrigerating the candy to set the chocolate was a bad idea because it caused the chocolate to look dull and "bloom". Just let the candy set at room temperature for several hours, even overnight (cover it) until the chocolate sets. The sheet of toffee can now be broken into bite-size pieces quite easily.

Verdict: What can I say? This is some drop-dead amazing candy. It tastes exactly like the stuff that you buy for exorbitant sums of money from glassed-in confection palaces. If you like butterscotch, and were a fan of Cadbury's "nutties" with that irresistible center, this candy is for you. This candy moved the normally-unflappable V to say "Holy Cr**", which may not sound like a compliment, but is the equivalent of a Michelin star in V-speak. Yes, this is a man of few words. Somehow, I have a feeling that I am going to be making many many batches of this buttercrunch toffee. Hard crack? Crack is right. This stuff is addictive. You have been duly warned. I owe you, Mr. Lebovitz.

Next stop in Candyland: peanut chikki as soon as I can hack the dhep (mound) of jaggery into manageable chunks. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, here are some more candy recipes for your sweet tooth (and most don't need a candy thermometer). I am loosely defining candy as something bite-sized and sweet and delicious that is not a cookie or cake:
A list of easy candy recipes from The Kitchn
Kalyn's great list of homemade food gifts has a section on candy
Hot Peppered Candied Walnuts from The Candied Quince
Vegan Chocolate Truffles from The 'Yum' Blog
Chocolate Truffles from The Perfect Pantry
Dark Chocolate Nuggets from Vegetarian Times

I am sending another picture of the candy to this month's CLICK event. The theme is "NUTS".
bccandy2


*** *** *** Menu for Hope *** *** ***

Psst...have you heard about the best deal this holiday season? $10 buys you a raffle ticket for the annual foodbloggers' fund-raising event, the Menu for Hope 4. All of your money goes towards bringing a nutritious school lunch to children in Lesotho, Africa. Meanwhile, lady luck could be spinning her magic to make you the lucky winner of one of the ridiculously desirable prizes donated by generous food bloggers. You could discuss candy-making with Harold McGee in person (UW11 buys you a chance for lunch with him), or indulge your sweet tooth with a ticket for UC04: the ice cream maker package. Or maybe AP11: online diet makeover to recover from all that holiday feasting. Choose from any of the dozens of other books, jams, chocolate boxes and kitchen tools that are raining down. Don't miss out! Go grab your tickets here from now until the 21st of December.

39 comments:

  1. Hey Nupur,
    Nutty candy looks so good. Can't wait for that peanut chikki. Have you checked out, Anupama's breaking the dhep tip? http://food-n-more.blogspot.com/2006/07/tip-of-week.html
    It really works you know! but person like me messed up there too. If you see any moisture/droplets on the dhep after putting in the microwave, do not immediately pack in the bottle. I did, and my jaggery got fungus!:-(
    But Anupama's tip is a sure winner.

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  2. Oh my that does look dandy indeed. Love all the nuts in it.

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  3. Hi Nupur,

    I always thought making candy is hard. But this recipe should surely help.

    Thanks!
    Avanti

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  4. this recipe is a keeper. thanks for sharing it. i used to adore those 'nutties'. what a gorgeous entry for CLICK. thank you.

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  5. This is a really delicious entry. You have been making magic in the kitchen my friend :)

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  6. That looks amazing. Wow. Just like on the displays of the pretentious chocolatiers:) And the reaction from V, says it all! I will try this one for sure and let you know.

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  7. nupur..that candy looks great..i have been wanting to make candy too..but am too lazy to really get to it..u sure are inspiring me :D

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  8. Looks so good! Share some?? ;)
    The nuts must make it extra special!!!

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  9. What a lovely recipe! Nutties are a big favourite.
    Have some panchawarshik yojanas of my own. Good to know you got one of yours out of the way.

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  10. Aaah Nupur. I gotta try this. Now, how did you manage to get nuts on both the sides. I was hoping to see a chikki-topped-with nuts kinda thing.

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  11. GROOVY!
    that looks so good, Nupur :)
    slurrrrrp. I do like to coat the almonds in choc, but never did the candy thing.

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  12. Look at you, tackling your two projected projects in such quick succession! You're a better gal than I, Nupur! Toffee looks amazing. I tried this years ago -- sans chocolate -- did not come out anything like yours! Maybe it's time to dig up that old thermometer again, and find my attention-to-detail hat :)

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  13. I have never tried making candy..but i do make chikki...super snaps

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  14. Aha! When you said you had a candy recipe in mind, I wondered if it might be this one :) I've made it several times since and it is truly a wonderful recipe. Yours looks so delicious with that mixture of nuts!

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  15. Wow, you managed these beauties in your first attempt! Good luck with the chikki...I tried my hand last year - total flop show, but every chewy stretchy bit was eaten.

    5 year plans...lol...have many of those. Some I even have pictures of but later forget the 'exact' recipe!

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  16. i love nutties!! that means i shud surely try this!!! awesome!!

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  17. Nups!! what you ahve said is true dear as when u find the right recipe, its such an amazement that we conquered it!!
    Nutty candy looks so yummy!!!
    I love that chewy texture and i am sure that must be a winner!!

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  18. Meera, yes, I do know of Anupama's trick and it works really well! I am just apprehensive because this dhep is a rather large one. It is going to take a lot of microwaving to break this one :D thanks for the reminder about letting the jaggery cool down and dry before packing it in.

    Meeta, the nuts really make this candy special!

    Avanti, I would still say that it is tricky because candy-making can fail once in a while. But this recipe is a great one and totally worth a try.

    Bee, the combination of brittle candy and nuts and chocolate is very close to that awesome "nutties" flavor. You gotta try this!

    Cynthia, well, the gods of the kitchen have been smiling down on me...just plain luck that recipes are working! :)

    GM, yup, it looks very nice when it is wrapped up for gift-giving. You have to try it! I hope it works well for you. And I just spotted your peda recipe and have bookmarked it :)

    Rajitha, yes, this is the result of two years worth of sheer laziness :D Do this on some weekend when you have no plans and lots of time on your hands. It is a lot of fun for sure.

    Manasi, the nuts do make it extra special! Of course I will share. Mail me your address and I will send you some for sure. Seriously!

    TheCooker, yes, I am planning to get them out of the way one by one, each month. Let's see how long *that* plan lasts :D

    Suganya, there are nuts on both sides because there were nuts scattered on the sheet before the syrup was poured on, and there more nuts were added on top and pressed in. But if you prefer them on one side only, I see no reason why that should not be possible! Give it a whirl!

    Richa, I think you will love the candy thing if you give it a shot :)

    Linda, this is what happens when you declare projects on the blog- you have to save face by actually doing them :D This recipe is worth digging up the candy thermo for (but make sure it still works!)

    easycrafts, I hope I find it that easy to make chikki :)

    Cathy, of course it was this one :) This is one of the best candies I have every eaten in my life! I don't know about the pecans here...I think I preferred the almonds more. The pecans were too rich and not as crunchy as I would have liked.

    Anita, I know, making chikki is not as easy and foolproof as some would have you believe. I have had a flop show with it myself a few years ago. Maybe you made it on a humid day or something? I nearly fainted when this recipe worked so well on the first try.

    Nags, yes, you should totally try it!

    Padmaja, thanks :) it is not chewy at all actually- it has a brittle, crunchy, melt-in-the-mouth taste.

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  19. Lovely Nupur! Have to hunt for those nutties, was just talking to my friend about those the other day. Maybe buying a candy thermometer and trying out your delicious recipe might be a lot easier. Happy Holidays!

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  20. Delicious candy! very tempting! :) This is a must try sweet for me!

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  21. ooh, wow, Nupur. That candy really does look dandy!

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  22. awesome nupur....perfect name for nut candy...looks soooooo gud slurrp!!!! nuts makes them even more special....

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  23. Nupur:

    I have been a reader of your blog for a long time but its the first time I'm writing a commnent. I think your first picture is awesome and you should probably submit that one for the Click event, rather than the second one! This is just my opinion-I hope you dont mind my writing it.

    Your cooking, descriptions, recipes and pics are all awesome! I have tried many a recipes from your blog and my family has enjoyed them!
    -- Ruch

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  24. I'm so impressed that you are taking on candy -- I definitely haven't got the courage to try it. V is a lucky man, if he gets to be your taster!

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  25. How lovely to find a mention of my candied walnuts on your beautiful blog! As good as those walnuts were, though, they're nothing compared with your Buttercrunch Toffee ... OMG, that looks scrumptious!

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  26. nupur candy looks wonderfullll and crunchy

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  27. Nupur - the candy indeed looks right out of some high end store. A big compliment to you girl for getting this done. I wont even think of giving this a shot, but wouldnt really mind having a batch courired to me - do you want my address - pleeeeeez say yes. .

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  28. Wow! What beautiful candy! Lady,you've done very well indeed...thanks for the recipe...I'm definitely going to give it a shot :-D

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  29. This candy looks really yummy; and you make it sound so simple! Love the presentation with the holiday theme. Thanks!

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  30. Yummy Nupur and such a beautiful shot too. You are so sincere with your projects

    -- sandeepa

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  31. The candy looks lovely! How do people usually break those jaggery mounds? I use a screwdriver and a hammer.

    Sometimes I add a little jaggery some veggies, and then I use a serrated knife to peel off jaggery flakes.

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  32. Indosungod, Yes, this makes a very nice homemade gift too! our kids will also enjoy helping you make it :)

    Latha, you are a pro at sweets anyway! I think you will like this :)

    Shyam, thanks :D

    Remya, yes, the nuts add such great flavor to this candy.

    Ruch, thank you for de-lurking :) Your opinion is always welcome when it is expressed so sweetly. I already submitted the second pic to pic, so that ship has sailed; but next time I will hold little polls before choosing a pic and I hope you will participate and let me know your opinion!

    Lydia, it is a *lot* easier than many of the dishes you tackle in your kitchen! Take my word for it :) I dont see V complaining about his stressful job as a taster ;)

    Tania, those candied walnuts are totally on my to-do list! You got to try this one :)

    Sagari, thanks!

    Shella, Ok...I'll send some with Santa and if you have been a good girl, he will give you some ;) :D

    Sunita, yes, this one is a must-try for sure!

    Namita, it really is a very simple and tasty recipe. Give it a shot and you will see! :)

    Sandeepa, thank you, my dear. I don't know about sincere..it took me several years to get to this!

    Lekhni, the microwave tip given here:
    http://food-n-more.blogspot.com/2006/07/tip-of-week.html
    works very well! Just be careful to microwave in short bursts so that you don't end up with a puddle of melted jaggery stuck to the plate. The heating softens the jaggery enough that you can cut through it with a knife. It will make it much easier to safely peel off flakes too, for use in cooking. What I do is: microwave it, then cut into small enough pieces that I can use spoonfuls for cooking.

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  33. nupur, this is definitely the most drool worthy nutty pic i have seen in some time - can brittles be packaged to india?

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  34. Nupur, this one looks so professional kind.. not that your other recipes are'nt!! Your right we get these kind of stuff in big stores & with the most expensive price on it too.. nice one nupur!!

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  35. I simply love Nutties.. and this already looks too delicious without knowing it tastes like nutties. A definite must-try. Will I be able to make these without a candy thermometer? Thanks for this awesome recipe Nupur.

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  36. Hi Nupur
    I tried your candy today and it was awesome!!!!! You're right - it is so addictive! I made a batch to send with DH for his workplace but ended up eating half of it myself.I did run into a slight hitch while making it tho' - the syrup just wouldn't heat upto 300 degrees F no matter how long I boiled it. Finally I tried putting the lid on while it was boiling and then the temp went up. Just curious if you had to do the same. thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.

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  37. Lakshmi, well, the brittle has a room-temp shelf-life of about 4-6 days so it all depends on whether the mode of transport you choose can get it there that quickly. From what I know, most affordable shipping methods take longer. It could work if one uses an expensive courier service or takes it themselves when they travel. Just speculating!

    Seema, glad you like it :) it tastes really good, and the recipe source is a very respected person who makes a living from desserts :) so it has to be good!

    Laavanya, I guess you could give it a try without a candy thermometer, by reading some cookbooks/websites that give the method for cooking syrup to the "hard crack" stage, when the sugar forms a brittle sheet once cooled. Recognizing that stage is the only tricky part- if you get that, the rest is very simple.

    Manju, the temperature of the syrup depends on how much water is left in the mixture. As water cooks out, the boiling point of the syrup increases and the temp can go higher. So the only thing I can think of is: perhaps it was very humid on that day? When you closed the lid, maybe you kept out the outside humid air and the water was able to cook out? I did not have this problem when I made the candy (twice so far). The temp steadily did increase to 300F in the space of several minutes. Glad the candy came out well anyway!!

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  38. Holy Cr** is right, Nupur! This is some AMAZING candy. Thank you so much for blogging about your experience making it! This was such a hit - we errm... smuggled it into the movies and the batch was gone within minutes (before the first song :-D ). I am off to whip up another batch.

    The only issue was that the nuts that I sprinkled on top of the chocolate didnot stick too well... so when I broke up the candy, a lot of it fell off. Oh well, I'll just use them as the base for my next batch. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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  39. YAY! GM, I am so glad that your candy was a success :) :) you just made my day!
    Oh really...the nuts on top did not stick too well?! The only thing I can think of is to press them in gently into the still-molten chocolate with your fingers (that is what I do and it seems to be OK). Truthfully, the nuts on the bottom, that are stuck into the butterscotch are the star of the candy, right?
    Happy Holidays :)

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