Candy: English Toffee
Confectioner: Man Seeking Coffee
(The unabashedly and hubristic) Rating: 4
I wanted to stay with a holiday theme for a post or two so I’m focusing on a Man Seeking Coffee holiday tradition: English Toffee. My father handed me the family recipe who learned it from his mother. Beyond that is the point where “family” drops out of the equation. As lore would have it, the toffee recipe, like all my Grandmother’s great recipes, originated from the cookbook of a of a lunch lady with whom she worked while attending Transylvania University many decades ago.
I’ve tweaked my recipe from the one handed to me by my father, which already bore some genetic variation from the version of the recipe handed down to him. My recipe also appears to bear the slight genetic variances one would expect to see in the toffee generated in the kitchens of my aunts and uncles. Mine uses all butter (the original recipe called for half margarine, if you can believe it) and uses (high quality) dark chocolate instead of Hershey bars. I like to think that my Grandmother would appreciate my upholding the spirit, if not the letter, of her holiday cooking tradition.
I’ve been thinking a lot about toffee this holiday. Mostly it’s the simple sensory pleasure of the stuff, which tastes especially fantastic accompanied by a darker cup of coffee in the evenings, preferably in front of a fire. It seems to taste especially good next to an Americano made with either Decaf Black Cat and/or Stumptown House Decaf (my two current, if not all time favorite decafs). The bitter chocolate notes found in these coffees contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the toffee while enhancing the burnt sugar aspects of the sticky stuff.
I’ve also been thinking about the toffee making process and its parallels to coffee roasting. The whole Maillard reaction is fascinating. With candy, you take the same ingredients (butter and sugar mostly) through an ever increasing range of heat to create different types of candy. At one stage you get taffy, another pralines and yet another, toffee.
With coffee, we have different names for different roasts, but we still use the term coffee to describe both lighter and darker roasted beans. I’m assuming that part of the reason we treat coffee differently than candy is that no matter the roast, you still have a coffee bean. With candy, you produce a different looking substance at each phase of the process. Nevertheless, chemically-speaking, dark roasted beans are quite different than their light roasted cousins. I wonder if we aren’t doing the roasting process some conceptual injustice by not creating names that more clearly distinguish lighter from darker roasts.