Toffee and Delicious Cookies

Posted: 13 December 2007 in Food, joy

I grew up watching my mother roll out dozens of batches of cookies and candy each Christmas.  My sisters and I carted them to teachers, piano and ballet instructors, ministers, family friends, and neighbors.  It seemed like billions of little wreath themed paper plates flew out of the kitchen covered in foil.  There were powered sugar crescents (dull) and black walnut sour cream cookies (too sophisticated and too expensive for little tongues).  She made caramels which we hand wrapped in wax paper and peanut brittle that gleamed under the dim stove lamp.  There were sugar cookies in glistening green and red sugar crystals, butter cookies that came out of a press which we called Crowns and which my father dearly loves.  I always hoped for molded chocolates like some of my friends mothers made, but instead we had extravagant gingerbread men and women. 

There were enough men for a whole christmas tree of their own and, while the decorating lost its thrill after the tenth man, the memories of eating the gingerbread dough out of the straw used to poke the holes for red ribbon was enough to propel me into icing ten more.  My mother always hoped for perfectly iced cookies, piped in white icing with little mittens and scarves.  Instead she got manically colored men – blue, pink, yellow, orange, green – covered in colored sugar and silver candy balls.  We paid no attention to arms or legs, only occasionally remembering to paste on little candy blue or white eyes.  As we grew up, we took decorating to an entirely new level; we took an inventive look on the burnt men and men missing arms and turned them into train wreck victims, porn stars and people from the news.  One year, every man on the tree had a blue dot over the face (our early 90s rendition of the blurred identity disguise in pictures and on air.) 

But the thing I looked forward to most every year was the perfectly brittle toffee, covered in chocolate and almonds.  My mother stood at the stove stirring the hot sugar and, as she inevitably had started too many projects at once, frequently pressed the wooden spoon into my tiny hands and commanded me to stir.  “Don’t stop!” she’d demand, motioning a figure 8 in the air, her perfect stirring method.  I’d stir, sitting on a blue kitchen stool, until I thought my arm would fall off.  Sometime after, the candy would morph into a deep brown bubbling mass and she’d whisk it from the stove, pour it into pans and leave it to cool.  The icing and almonding happened before I realized it and then we were breaking the toffee into tiny, bite-sized pieces and I was coveting the chocolate that flaked off.

I spent the evening making my mother’s toffee as I do every year this time, always for a string of colleagues, friends and neighbors and never for myself, always starting too many projects at once and commanding D. to stir – “don’t stop!”  Tonight it was the laundry, and the divine oatmeal cookies, and the dishes and de-puppy proofing the kitchen (we’ll see how that goes.)  And she dutifully stirred while I shoveled cookies, changed loads and juggled hot pans into the dishwasher. 

Here is the toffee recipe.  But you’ll have to wait for the Melt in Your Mouth Brown Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

Put one pound of unsalted butter (4 sticks) into a pot.  Melt over medium heat.  Add two cups of sugar, one tablespoon of vanilla (don’t cheat, use the real thing, not imitation) and 1/8 tsp of cream of tartar.  You might be tempted to leave it out, but don’t.  It adds creaminess and improves mouth-feel.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and stir (figure 8s work well) until the mixture reaches the hard crack stage.  If your candy thermometer is worth its salt, it will be marked on the side.  Otherwise, it’s 160 degrees Celsius and about 320 Fahrenheit.  When you reach the hard crack stage, pour onto an oven-liner (trust me, it will come out better than it will with a cookie sheet, but if you refuse, then use a sheet with sides.)  Cool several hours, depending on how hot your kitchen is.  When hard, melt 8 ounces of chocolate (Hershey’s bars are fine), spread over hard toffee (and lick your lips at the very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory scene you’re working) and then sprinkle with sliced or ground almonds before it cools.  Let sit overnight and then break into smaller pieces.  Smaller than you think.  Really.  The size of a large marble.


  1. eternitycode says:

    I can’t wait to try out the toffee recipe!

  2. rye says:

    omg, I am trying to picture the porn-star gingerbread cookies! hahahahahaha I am going to laugh about the ALL DAY 🙂

  3. bipolarlawyercook says:

    This sounds delicious, and easier than the toffee recipe I was contemplating, which called for corn syrup, ugh. Thank you!

  4. Kitty says:

    I had no idea toffee had so few ingredients. I thought there was some magical toffee flavor to add.

    Love the creative gingerbread men. You crack me up.

  5. bipolarlawyercook says:

    Woman, I just made your recipe, after crashing and burning with another one I was pressured to make. I am sending you a big, sloppy kiss of gratitude. Thank you– it’s delicious, and easy!

  6. backlist says:

    oh yay! I think I internet-love you!

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