Walnut toffee

December 10, 2008
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Makes about 1 1/2 pounds

Old-fashioned homemade toffee is a rich and buttery four-ingredient mixture, lavished with dark chocolate. The sweetness of the brittle is offset with toasted walnuts. The recipe involves caramelizing Demerara sugar (not brown sugar), which cooks to a golden brown. A candy thermometer comes in handy here, unless you're experienced with candymaking. Demerara, available at many stores, including Trader Joe's, is a very pale caramel color and has a high percentage of molasses, which lets it caramelize quickly and gives a lovely depth of flavor - that indefinable, elusive toffee-ness - to this popular candy.

2 cups walnut pieces
Butter (for the pan)
2 cups Demerara sugar (also known as organic cane sugar)
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut up
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast them for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they start to brown. Cool the nuts; chop them coarsely.

2. Clean and dry the baking sheet; butter it.

3. Measure 1/2 cup of the nuts and keep them separate. Spread the rest on the baking sheet.

4. In a large, heavy saucepan, set the sugar and water over medium-low heat. Let it cook without stirring until the sugar is moist. With a wooden spoon, gently stir the sugar. It will begin to melt and caramelize quickly. When most of the sugar has turned to liquid, stir to melt any lumps. Let it bubble steadily until the color turns a deep caramel color (330 to 340 degrees on a candy thermometer).

5. Remove the pan from the heat. Set it on a heatproof surface. Immediately, drop in pieces of butter and use the spoon to beat the mixture vigorously to incorporate the butter. The mixture will foam up - be careful as it may spatter. Replace the mixture on the heat for 1 minute - it will become opaque and begin to form smaller bubbles around the edges.

6. Tip the mixture into the baking sheet, pouring it evenly over the walnuts. Use a metal palette knife dipped in water to spread it out.

7. Sprinkle the chocolate or chips evenly over the hot toffee. When it melts, use a dry metal palette knife to spread the chocolate evenly, making waves like bark. (If the chocolate doesn't melt, put the pan into a 200 degree oven for a few minutes to warm the toffee.)

8. Sprinkle with the remaining walnuts. Set aside in a cool place or refrigerate for 1 hour.

9. Bend the ends of the pan to release the toffee or slip a metal palette knife under one end. Break the mixture into large pieces. Store in an airtight tin. Wrap in cellophane to give as gifts. Robin Shepard

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