Forgive me jumping ahead to the punchline a little, but if your treacle toffee making has gone well then it is going to be so hard that the only way to break it into pieces is by giving it a right old whack with a rolling pin or a hammer. Now does that sound like something we should be eating? And it is true that on first tasting you can’t help but fear the worst for your pearly whites. But then – ah then – it becomes a gorgeously, thickly, richly, treacly, toffeely, warmth in your mouth. You realise with relief that you’ll still have your teeth after all. They just may not be quite so pearly white.
All toffee is achieved by boiling sugar to an unbelievably high temperature and leaving it to set hard as it cools. If you are looking to make any kind of toffee other than treacle, the basic technique and science for doing it is just the same. Cinder toffee is even more fun to make than treacle with the way it bubbles up in the pan to get the honeycomb effect.
As far as the ingredients go, there seem to be as many different versions of how to make treacle toffee as there must be sparks on a Catherine Wheel:
Sugars – brown, demerara, caster, granulated. They all seem to crop up in different recipes. I use demerara because the brown sugars tend to generally give a more toffeeish feel.
Vinegar – may seem like an odd ingredient in a sweet but it is there because its acidity will give your toffee the structure you’re after. Again, there are differences in recipes between using white wine vinegar or malt. You won’t taste it and they’ll both equally step up to the science job they are needed for, so using either will be fine.
Cream of tartar – is there to fulfil the same function as the vinegar so if the recipe you are using includes it then now you know why.
There may be variations in ingredients, but all recipes agree that the key to successful treacle toffee is getting the cooking temperature right. ‘Hard crack’ is the name for what you need to achieve. That is when the mixture gets to 150C degrees and you’ll know it either by using a sugar thermometer, or the method described in step 3 below. Getting the temperature spot on is vital for achieving that hard, brittle toffee. If you put it into the tin before the mixture is really hot enough then your toffee will be sadly soft.
These quantities work if you’re using a 20cm round or square cake tin. A springform one would be easiest for when it comes to turning out.
450g demerara sugar
100g black treacle
100g golden syrup
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
80g unsalted butter
1. Start off by greasing the tin with a bit more unsalted butter. Go all over the base and just about an inch up the tin sides, paying particular attention to the corners if it’s a square one. Keep the tin close to hand so that when the toffee is ready it can go in straight away before it has chance to cool at all, and so that you’re not wandering around the kitchen with a pan of madly hot treacle which could do someone serious burn damage.
2. Put all of the ingredients into a large saucepan. Heat until the butter has melted. Now really turn the heat up and get it boiling as fast as you can. It might start to look a bit scary as it madly bubbles away and that is what you want. The more it looks like a volcanic witches brew, the better. Stir every so often as the mixture carries on boiling and bubbling. Bring a glass of cold water over to the pan.
3. Now for ‘hard crack’. You’ll know that you have hit the right temperature when you put a drop of mixture into the glass and it becomes brittle. Dig the piece out of the glass and feel it. If you try it and are not sure whether what you have in the glass is ready or not, it isn’t. Recipes talk about anything from 10 minutes to half an hour. Just do check regularly and stir occasionally so that it doesn’t burn. You could of course use a sugar thermometer instead, put it in and just wait for it to get to 150C.
4. As soon as you have ‘hard crack’, pour the mixture into the nearby tin. Then leave to set – in the fridge if you want to be quick about it. When it is set rock hard, take it out of the tin. This will be easier if you used a springform.
5. And now for the ‘fun’ bit of breaking the toffee up into pieces. You will have to smash it, there’s no other way. Use a toffee hammer – or just the end of a rolling pin – and go for it. Unleash your imagination and give the toffee a quick hard thwack. As you go through it bits will fly off and shards may scatter all over the kitchen so do be careful. Small children with eyes open wide in amazement at what the heck you are up to should be shielded.
The pieces will be madly higgledy-piggledy but all the better for it. Cut up some squares of baking parchment to wrap each piece in or else you will find the pieces just all stick together too much. Twist the paper ends in opposite directions.
The treacle toffee will keep like this for at least a week in an air-tight tin. All ready for the next generation of be-mittened hands to rustle amongst them on Bonfire Night, trying to find the piece that is just the right size to accompany the next blast of fireworks.