When I was a young girl, my mother and I sailed from San Francisco to Bangkok, Thailand. The Vietnam War was raging, and my father, a Foreign Service officer, was working in Saigon. We went to live closer to him and to be able to see him once a month or so. The reason why we traveled there by boat was because my mother was afraid to fly.
So, we embarked on a long multi-month freight run through Guam, the Philippines, and beyond. It was tedious at times for a young girl, but I read my way through the small paperback library and the ship's collection of Ellery Queen mystery magazines. I learned how to play cribbage, literally like a sailor.
Of all the memories such a big adventure might offer, a persistent one I have is walking the two levels down from our small stateroom to the purser's office. Once I discovered this onboard feature, I merely had to knock on the unremarkable closed half-door of the office and the affable purser would appear with shelves of enticing candies and snacks lined up behind him. I had to pay in cash for my purchases, so it became a motivation for me to learn how to play cribbage so well.
And, of the spoils of victory I remember most vividly were those little toffee, chocolate and almond candies wrapped in gold foil. Inside the pink and gold tin canister the purser handed me were seemingly a lifetime supply of the most delicious things I had ever tasted.
Segue to 40 years later. My South African son-in-law has been experiencing many new adventures of his own living in Alaska, among them learning to ski, dog mush, and how to drive a snowmachine on the right side of the trail. My daughter brought him to visit for the first time during a blizzard in the middle of the Iditarod. Certainly, trial by fire – or snow – was Ty's introduction to his new future family. But, on that trip, he discovered the delight of those little gold-foil almond, chocolate and toffee candies. I am glad the affinity for these has made it to a second generation.
We're now ramping up for the holidays and making gifts from the kitchen to give to friends and family. One of our favorites amongst the jams and chutneys, breads and flavored honey, is our version of almond and chocolate toffee. Although we don't serve them in gold foil or in that cool pink tin canister, they are easy to make, they taste just like the legendary original, and recipients are always appreciative of the homemade nature of our gifts.
Almond chocolate toffee (that's what I am calling it but I often resort to the trademarked name in causal conversation) consists of brown sugar, butter and toasted almonds, all rolled in good-quality chocolate. The variations are perhaps obvious but you can use different nuts or combinations of nuts, add flavoring to the toffee, and experiment with chocolate varieties.
Almond Chocolate Toffee
Prepare 2 mini-loaf pans (we use 3-1/2-inch by 7-inch pans but any size will work -- or even a regular bread loaf pan) by lining it with aluminum foil and buttering the pan (or spraying with pan spray).
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the brown sugar, the corn syrup or honey, and the salt. Stir until the brown sugar dissolves, making a caramel. Stir the caramel until it reaches 290 degrees F. This will take about five to six minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in some of the nuts. You can add in as much or little as you prefer. Or, you can use a different nut in the toffee mix and roll them in almonds. Add the remaining nuts into a bowl.
Pour, or more accurately scrape, the toffee into the prepared loaf pans.
Let the toffee cool for a couple of minutes, and then lift the aluminum foil and contents out from the pans. We have a marble countertop so we just peeled the loosened toffee onto an oiled section of our countertop but place the toffee bar onto any oiled cutting surface. Slice the toffee into in 1/2-inch by 2-inch bars. Let the bars cool.
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler if you have one. If not, just watch cautiously as the chocolate melts over low heat. Some people prefer to melt chocolate in a microwave but I don't have one and don't cook with this method. Dip each piece of toffee into the melted chocolate and then roll it in the bowl of chopped nuts. We used a fork to lift the rolled toffee out of the nuts and placed each onto a baking sheet.
Refrigerate the toffees for about a half-hour before serving, or until the chocolate is nice and firm. Wrap them individually and festively and give them away for good luck.
Makes about two dozen toffees.
Contact Chef Kirsten Dixon at kirsten(at)alaskadispatch.com.