Toffee – Easy to Make, Easy to Eat

Christmas is quite literally now around the corner.  Our tree is up, presents wrapped, our favourite Christmas movies on the telly and fruit mince pies cooling on the counter.  I have to admit, the older I get the more I love spending Christmas Eve at home with Minou and the hubster, grazing on fantastic food and drinking a special bottle from the cellar.

Every year I  make a small treat boxes for my coworkers, as a way to say thank you for a fantastic year.  I try to make a variety of goodies, but as you can imagine things can get a bit hectic around the holidays, and this year was no exception.  Since November I haven’t been exactly sure which way is up or which day it is.  It has been cray cray (in a good way) at work in the lead up to Christmas, then there was Turkey Day where the green bean casserole from my previous post was a hit, and before you know it, Christmas is here.

So this year it was time to think small and simple.  Fruit mince pies are always a hit, but this year there are a few vegetarians and religious restrictions in the team, so I needed an alternative.  Mom on Timeout’s toffee recipe came through on my Facebook feed in the nick of time.  It seemed easy enough to create and plus hey, I love hard toffee.  Win win!


Here’s my video of the test.

Here’s the original recipe:

Mom on Timeout’s “Better than Anything” Toffee

Ingredients
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 227 grams) Challenge unsalted butter (Of course, you can use your favourite butter.  Challenge butter doesn’t exist here in Australia)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Spray a 9-inch (23 centimeter) square baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
  2. Spread the chopped pecans in a single layer on top of the parchment.
  3. Add butter, sugar, and salt to a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot
  4. Bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Once the candy is boiling, stir occasionally, slowly and evenly, until the candy has reached 290F (143 Celsius) to 300F (148 Celsius), or “hard crack” on a candy thermometer.
  6. Once the candy has reached 290F-300F, remove from heat and gently stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Carefully pour the mixture over the chopped pecans.
  8. Let the candy sit for a few minutes, undisturbed, before sprinkling the chocolate chips over the top.
  9. Cover the baking dish with foil and let sit for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has softened.
  10. Remove the foil and gently spread the softened chocolate into an even layer. An offset spatula works best for this.
  11. Place the candy in the refrigerator and let cool completely. Give it at least 2 hours.
  12. Lift the parchment out of the baking dish and place the toffee on a cutting board or solid surface.
  13. Use a knife to gently break it into smaller pieces.
  14. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

The Good, the Bad, the Inedible

I’ve actually never made toffee, so this was an exciting challenge for me.  The recipe seems really easy, just a matter of dumping in ingredients and letting them bubble away.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Yeah….the first test was a fail.  Absolute epic fail.  The toffee split when it hit about 250F, making the brown, curdled gluggy mess.  I had no idea what I had done wrong!  After doing some research there’s a few possibilities.

  • Stirring too hard and too often- This I think is the most likely reason.  Stirring too hard could possibly cause an abrupt temperature shift, which is a big no no for toffee.
  • Increasing or decreasing heat too drastically could also cause this.  I’ll admit I was very gentle stirring this bath, and I was using a whisk, so maybe while whisking too hard, I added too much cool air and just the force of my whisking caused it to split.
  • Using a cheap saucepan that doesn’t distribute heat properly – Yeah nah.  That’s definitely not me! Scanpan and Le Creuset all the way!
  • Humidity – water and fat don’t mix, so if it’s too humid in your kitchen this could also cause your toffee to split.

So with the second test I made sure to not stir the pot too much and too vigorously.  And that certainly helped me get a successful toffee!  Woohoo! My dentist is going to love me the next time he sees me!


There area  few things with this recipe I would change.  It’s not the ingredients, but more the order of adding ingredients in. I would add the vanilla in at the very beginning with the sugar and butter, as it does splatter around in the hot pan and also to prevent any drastic temperature changes in the toffee.  You’re not putting much vanilla in, but let’s just air on the side of caution and safety.  Nobody likes burnt fingers, hands and faces.

I would also use a 9 x 13 inch pan instead of a square 9 x 9 inch pan.  I like my toffee a bit thinner instead of thicker chunks.  But hey that’s just my personal preference, you are welcome to do what you wish!  Mom on Timeout also uses milk chocolate chips, but considering how sweet the toffee already is I used semi sweet chocolate chips in the second test to cut through the sweetness a bit.  But again you’re welcome to try either milk or dark, or maybe a combination of both if you prefer!

Here’s the amended recipe with my suggested edits:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 227 grams) butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Spray a 9 x 13 inch (23cm x 33cm) pan square baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
  2. Spread the chopped pecans in a single layer on top of the parchment.
  3. Add butter, sugar, salt and vanilla to a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot
  4. Bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Once the candy is boiling, stir occasionally, slowly and evenly, until the candy has reached 290F (143 Celsius) to 300F (148 Celsius), or “hard crack” on a candy thermometer.
  6. Once the candy has reached 290F-300F, carefully pour the mixture over the chopped pecans.
  7. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and let sit for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has softened.
  8. Gently spread the softened chocolate into an even layer. An offset spatula works best for this.
  9. Place the candy in the refrigerator and let cool completely. Give it at least 2 hours.
  10. Lift the parchment out of the baking dish and place the toffee on a cutting board or solid surface.
  11. Use a knife to gently break it into smaller pieces.
  12. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

 

Did my coworkers like the toffee?  Considering it was very quiet in the office as they munched on it, I reckon they did!

From my family to yours, have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year, full of cheer and goodies!

Family Christmas Tradition: Fruit Mince Pies

Every family has one.  The one food that is always on the table at Christmas time.  It can be anything from your grandma’s casserole to your uncle’s glazed ham.  At my in-law’s house, it’s fruit mince pies.  Janet, my mum-in-law, makes hundreds of these tiny flaky, sweet pies every December to give to neighbours, team mates and friends.  There’s always a tray of these on the counter or coffee table on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and they’re pretty much all gone by the end of the day.

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Jan emigrated with her family from England to Australia when she was 14.  Her mum made these pies, and as far as we know, her mum’s mum made these too.  We don’t actually know how old the recipe as it’s never actually been written down, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s at least 100 years old.

I’ve watched Jan make these pies before and thought I had written the recipe correctly and had been making these correctly for the last couple of years.  I realised while filming Jan make these that I was doing quite a few things wrong!  So even I will be watching this video a few times when I make my next few batches!

Here’s my video on how to make these delicious pies.

There are few tips and tricks Jan told me while off camera that you should bear in mind while making these delicious little concoctions:

  • Never make the dough ahead of time.  You always want to make it fresh, and it’s easier to roll when made fresh.
  • Always use very cold lard and ice water.  The colder the lard, the flakier the pastry.

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  • When your dough starts to shrink back once rolling it a few times, it’s time to make a fresh batch.  Keep the used dough on hand, just in case you need to make a few extra tops or bottoms.
  • Always bake in a single layer.  Using both rack in your oven will cause the bottom pies to steam instead of bake.
  • Jan always uses lard for her pie pastry, never butter.  Lard makes a lighter pastry that works really well for these fruit mince pies.

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  • Jan also has always use Robertson’s Fruit Mince (or mincemeat as it’s called in the UK).  Her mum used them too.  They’ve been around for over 100 years and their product is outstanding.  You’re welcome to make your own fruit mince, but why do that when you can conveniently buy a few jars of it?
  • Jan has never used any mini pie tins, always the “patty pie” tins.  These are usually readily available in Coles and Woolies here.  If you can’t find them in your local supermarket, you can find them on Amazon. If you’re searching the net I’ve also seen them called fruit mince pie tins.

While this is an incredibly easy recipe to make, there are few steps in it and will take some time.  It would certainly be an excellent Christmas recipe to do with the kids, and they can help roll the dough and fill the pies.  Once you get the hang of it, you can churn these bad boys out in no time like Jan, who makes 10 dozen in less than two hours!

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The challenging part here is as this recipe was never written down, this is a bit of guesstimation involved in terms of the ratio of flour.  The recipe I have written down seems pretty close, which is why I’ve put “approximately” next to most ingredients. but you’re welcome to try your own amount of ingredients.  Remember though, it should always be more plain flour than self raising.  You don’t want your pies to puff up too much.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe!

Jan’s Fruit Mince Pies

  • Approx. 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • Approx 1 cup self raising flour
  • Approx 1/2 cup caster sugar 
  • 3/4 stick of lard (lard in Australia come in 250 gram sticks.  So you need approximately 187 grams, or approximately 6.6 ounces)
  • Ice water
  • Robertson’s fruit mince
  • Egg wash
  • Icing sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or 390 Fahrenheit.
  2. Drop the flours and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine.
  3. Add the lard, and one a medium speed mix until blended.
  4. Add the ice water, one teaspoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  You don’t want a sticky dough, just enough water to get all the ingredients incorporated.
  5. Drop the dough onto a floured surface and roll until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick.  You’ll know if you’re dough is too sticky if it sticks to the surface.  If you are using a silicone mat to roll on, you want to just start to see any lines from the mat come through.
  6. Use a 4 inch cookie cutter to cut out the pie bases.  Place them into your well oiled patty pie tins and lightly press them into the molds.
  7. Fill the bases with about 1 teaspoon of fruit mince.  Don’t over fill, as the mince thins out once heated.
  8. Roll out your dough again about 1/4 inc thick and use a 2 inch cookie cutter to cut out the tops.
  9. Paint one side of the tops with water and place on top of the fruit mince.  The water helps create a seal.
  10. Use a fork to prick holes into the tops.  This is to let any steam out while they’re baking.
  11. Paint with egg wash and then bake them until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
  12. Once cooled, get them out of the pan and onto a plate.  Dust with icing sugar.  Pack them in a Christmas tin or gift bags only once they’re fully cooled.
  13. Enjoy!

Let’s get Greeny….and Beany. Green Bean Casserole

Recipe Test: Paula Deen’s Green Bean Casserole

Holy crapola where has the time gone by?!  It’s OCTOBER?????? Wasn’t it just August a few days ago?!  Jesus how time has flown by.  And so much has happened.  Far out, I feel like I am suffering whiplash.

I started a new role withing the company I work for (which I absolutely love.  I can happily say I actually get excited about coming to work.  Not many people can say that!).  Along with that I managed to squeeze in a small holiday to Bali, the one country I have been to where I bawl my eyes out every time I leave.  The people, the culture, the perfect weather, It’s seriously paradise to me.  If I could I would probably “go bamboo” and live there permanently.  But alas, life goes on.  And I gots ta get paid.

That being said, we have eleven weekends before Christmas.  That’s right.  Only eleven weekends before the family chaos and gluttony that is the Christmas holiday are upon us. And Americans out there that means it’s  seven weeks until Thanksgiving.  Bring on the turkey and expandable pant wear!

Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as the hubster and I call it, is my favourite holiday.  As a kid, it was the one time of year my mum let me eat easy cheese and gorge on ranch dip before la piece de resistance, the turkey with all the trimmings, came out to the table.  At uni, my friends and I would gather together and have a “friendsgiving” and again stuff ourselves silly and just have a good laugh around the table.

When I got married, I really missed being able to celebrate this holiday with my family and friends, and the hubster being the man that he is really wanted to try cooking a turkey on his new toy, the keg spit.  And so, Turkey Day was born.  We’ve managed to keep this tradition going (with the exception of last year.  We were away on an adventure on Fraser Island), with every year getting bigger with more friends and coworkers coming and better as our spit roasting technique improves.  If you haven’t tried it yet, dear God go find a spit roast and roast your turkey on it.  Best. Bird. Ever.

Along with the traditional turkey I always make a green bean casserole to go along with it.  It’s not Thanksigiving unless you have a green bean casserole, well at least it was at my friend’s houses and in my uni days.  Green bean casserole is an excellent side dish to any holiday or Sunday roast, and there are heaps of different recipes out there you can try.  But today I’m going to test out Paula Deen’s green bean casserole recipe.

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Paula Deen, the Butter Queen. Photo courtesy of foodnetwork.com

Now if you don’t know who Paula Deen is, you certainly are in for a very southern treat.  She’s the butter queen, with the majority of her recipes using butter in one form or another.  As the years go by her hair just seems to defy gravity more and more, and that southern drawl just adds pizzazz to her TV personality.  She had a major setback a few years ago due to a rather public lawsuit, but I’m sure that her heart attack inducing, sinfully delicious recipes will endure.

I’ve also done something rather different this time around.  I’ve actually shot video of the entire test and posted up on my Youtube channel.  I hope you have a watch of it.  And yes, I’m cooking in activewear, and the cat video bombs at some point.  It’s my first time trying to film a test so be kind!

Alright, moving on.  Here’s Paula’s version ya’ll.

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch Paula Deen’s House Seasoning
  • 1 (2.8 oz, or 80 grams) can French-fried onion rings
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz, or 304 grams) can cream of mushroom soup
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups sliced green beans
  • 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced
  • 1/3 stick (38 grams) butter
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sauté the onions and mushrooms in the butter.
  3. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain.
  4. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, onion rings and House Seasoning to taste. Stir well.
  5. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted.

The Good, The Bad, The Inedible

The Good – With just five steps this recipes is so bloody easy.  The step that took the longest time was the baking part, and if you play your cards right, cleaning up should only take you a few minutes.  No seriously, I’m better at making a mess and it took me maybe five minutes to clean everything up.

The Bad – If you’re on a diet this is not the recipe for you.  Like I said Paula Deen is the butter queen, and  1/3 of a stick (or 38 grams) is a fuckton of butter for the amount of casserole this recipe actually makes.  The other problem I encountered (and this is shown on the video) is that soup can sizes are not universal.  10 3/4 ounces is actually 304 grams, and soup cans here in Australia are 420 grams.  So in the second test I actually had to measure out 304 grams, which come out to dead on 1 cup, leaving about a 1/4 of the tin left.   This is perfect proof why it’s always good to do a second test.  I’m pretty sure this is the first time where human error played a part in Clem’s Recipe Reviews.

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Now the soup can size isn’t Paula’s fault, at least I don’t think so.  But looking at her video and even the images on her site I doubt that she uses even the full can of cream of mushroom soup.  I got curious and had a look for soup can sizes in the US, and the standard is 10.5 ounces, so sorry Paula, I think your ingredient amount is a bit flawed. A full can with the amount of actual vegetables this recipe calls for really makes this dish Cream of Mushroom casserole instead of a green bean casserole.  You really only taste the soup contents and the cheese on the top, and if you’re wanting to taste the green beans, that’s just not going to happen in this recipe.

Paula also calls for you to add the fried onions into the casserole itself.  Now this does make the onion flavour slightly stronger, but the casserole as whole then lacked texture.  Cooked vegetables are just soft and could use something to boost the flavour factor here too.  So I would sprinkle them on top of the casserole at the very end to give the dish that extra bit of crunch and a bit of  extra flavour.

Might not sound like a big deal but I think your pan size is also important here.  Paula says to use a 1.5 quart dish to bake the casserole in.  Look this is entirely up to you, but it seemed to me that an 8×11 (if you stick with Paula’s recipe) or 9×12 dish (if you stick with mine) actually seemed to work better in keeping the soup mixture from boiling over the cheese at the very end. Just sayin’.

The Inedible – did I mention how much butter there is in this?  That’s all you can taste and your mouth is just coated in it after one bite.  I get it Paula, you love butter.  But ma’am, this time around you’ve gone a tad bit overboard.

To improve this recipe I added more of most of the ingredients to really get the green beans to be the main character of this dish and to give it different dimensions of flavour, but also so I could use a whole can of soup.  Because I mean seriously, who is going to use 100 grams of soup?  I think the amended version below is still worth a shot if you are stateside and have the 10.5 ounce cans.  You might find it not to be as thick and much closer to what Paula’s site images and video are.

If you have time, try out Paula’s house seasoning.  But if you have a go to recipe or brand, use it.  Mine is Old Bay.  It’s incredibly rare to find over here so I have a stash of it and go absolutely apeshit when I do find it at Costco.  Also onion rings are another rare find, but fried shallots from your local Asian grocery store are an excellent replacements.

I also cut the butter by half, and switched around the first two steps.  I found if I did the green beans first, and then sauteed the onions and mushrooms, then the green beans had plenty of time to drain and get as much water out as possible.  I also added garlic, because onions and garlic go together like PB & J.  Plus you’re already going to have onion breath, may as well have garlic breath too!

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Paula Deen’s House Seasoning, or your go-to seasoning mix
  • 1 (2.8 oz, or 80 grams) can French-fried onion rings, or fried shallots
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz, or 304 grams) can cream of mushroom soup
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups sliced green beans
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced
  • 1/6 stick (19 grams) butter
  • 1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. (175 degrees….180 is perfectly fine)
  2. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sauté the onions and mushrooms in the butter.
  4. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, and seasoning. Stir well.
  5. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted. Top with fried shallots.

And here without further a due is my video…..be prepared, it’s not the greatest quality but hey, I’m proud with what I’ve done!