This easy candy recipe — passed down from father to son — has a bittersweet backstory.
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pieces of Melt In Your Mouth Toffee
Credit: Linda (LMT)

My friend Jim Baymiller shared a treasured family recipe for English toffee a few years ago, and it's become my go-to goody for the holidays. I've basked in the sweet shower of compliments from friends and family — even a few chefs — when I've gifted this brilliant treat. It's super easy to DIY — as long as you're comfortable working with molten hot sugar — and a bargain to boot. The recipe calls for a stick of butter, 1 cup of sugar and a few more ingredients, and it makes a huge batch. The backstory of this heavenly toffee, however, is truly bittersweet.

Jim, a food enthusiast from Memphis, Tenn., recently shared some juicy details about how this recipe might have caused the end of a friendship:

"My father made all the Christmas candy (fudge, divinity, and toffee) and Toll House cookies, all in huge batches. The Toll House recipe was off the chocolate chip package, and the candy recipes were from our 'Joy of Cooking' — either a third edition (1946) or a fourth edition (1951). However, his results were always better than anybody else's. I think that it was due to tweaking techniques (not ingredients) and being very careful and particular in his methods. He was a lawyer, but those traits would have made him a fine surgeon!

"When I was an eighth grader (1960-1961), I was at a friend's house. His mother wanted me to try her prized toffee. She had tasted it at a friend's house and had asked for the recipe. The other woman would not part with it. Eventually she gave out the recipe for $100 (about a week's salary for a well-paid worker at that time). I tasted the toffee and told my friend's mother that it was exactly like my father's. She asked where he got the recipe and I responded: 'The Joy of Cooking.' She ran to get her copy, read the recipe, and essentially exploded. I always wondered if she ever talked to that 'friend' again."

I've made a few of my own adjustments through the years, skipping the water, sprinkling the extra dark chocolate chips on top of the toffee 5 minutes after I pour the mixture onto a cookie sheet, and spreading it out 5 minutes later. I rarely bother using a candy thermometer anymore, now knowing that when the mixture darkens and starts smoking, it's done and it's time to act quickly.

Tips: Keep the oven mitts handy and use an extra long silicone spatula for stirring (try this top-rated $9 Crate & Barrel spatula). Instead of the saucepan recommended in the recipe, I use a deeper kettle, which makes it less likely to get splattered by the hot liquid. I feel strongly that this is something every toffee lover needs to try.

Here's the incredible recipe, thanks to Jim, inspired by "The Joy of Cooking."

Jim Baymiller's Homemade English Toffee

Jim Baymiller's homemade English Toffee broken into serving pieces
Credit: Leslie Kelly

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter (no substitute)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 cup minced, roasted, salted almonds
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

Instructions

  1. Place first four ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Attach a candy thermometer (make sure the tip is not touching the bottom of the pan). (Try this $11.49 Taylor Candy Thermometer at Target a best-seller.)
  2. Stir to combine when butter melts. Bring to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) on the thermometer, remove from heat, stir in 2/3 cup of the almonds, and immediately pour into a 9x13-inch pan. Because the candy is so hot, it will spread out to the proper thickness on its own. Cool to room temperature.
  3. When cool, pour melted chocolate over the top and spread out evenly with a spatula. Then sprinkle on the remaining ⅓ cup minced almonds. Refrigerate until the chocolate is cold and then break into pieces with your clean hands. It cannot be cut. Store in the fridge.

You might also like this recipe for Melt In Your Mouth Toffee. It's similar to Jim Baymiller's recipe, but it's made without corn syrup.

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