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Winter Musings: Old English Toffee


January 18, 2012

When you grow up in a small New England town, simple pleasures become the events around which life exists. In the summer, the options are endless; building bonfires on the beach, skinny dipping, and watching the sun rise, meeting at the barn for midnight bareback races through the fields, and simple suppers out on the boat where even the most basic of meals taste delicious.

In the winter…the options are decidedly less endless…particularly when you’re young, broke, and your car only starts with a 50% probability rating. Once the sledding hill had been exhausted, and Meghan had kicked all our butts skating on the pond, I often ventured back inside to see what trouble we could get into in the kitchen.

This past weekend I jetted home for a whirlwind visit complete with high school basketball games, lobster multiple days in a row, beach walks, late night talks, and lots of huddling by fires. The most impressive fire of all was the Newbury bonfire where nearly 500 Christmas trees had been gathered and lit in a celebration of winter and, as my brother Ben put it, “because, really, what else is there to do around here in January?”

Big Ben and his Favorite Sister and Mother. All photos courtesy of

Oddly pagan if you ask me.

Drinking hot cider and rum to try and stay warm.

Me and my Mama.

This toffee is the ultimate winter dessert and also makes lovely gifts. You’re going to see in the directions it says “Don’t panic” and you’ll probably think, “That’s ridiculous, who would ever panic while making toffee?” Well, rest assured you probably will because there’s going to be a moment when you’ll be convinced you’ve wasted $20 worth of chocolate and who knows how much of almonds…but I promise you, it will come back together and be worth every second of anxiety.

Old English Toffee

They make beautiful, and coveted, gifts.

1 lb butter

1 lb finely chopped almonds, toasted

1 lb semi sweet chocolate (I like Ghirardelli )

2 cups sugar

Candy Thermometer (this is critical)

  1. Toast nuts at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet about 5 minutes, until brown on the edges. Don’t allow to burn!
  2. Combine butter and sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan until sugar melts, over medium heat.
  3. Add 1/2 the nuts and cook to 310 Degrees Fahrenheit, stirring constantly. Pending on how high your heat is this could take up to 20 minutes. During this time it’s likely that your butter and sugar will separate. DON’T PANIC. Turn up the heat, keep stirring, and they will combine again.  Note: The candy turns quickly near the end, so be careful not to burn. Will be a caramel color.
  4. Pour into a cookie sheet, spread to desired thickness and cool at room temperature.
  5. Melt chocolate in double broiler or microwave. Spread over cooked caramel, sprinkle with nuts, and allow to cool completely before breaking up and bagging.


  1. Steph says:

    So thrilled that you shared this! Your mom’s is to die for and I would love to practice ‘non-panicing’ while learning to make these delectables.Maybe I don’t even have to wait until next Christmas season with Valentine’s Day around the corner…….

    • Erina says:

      Valentines Day would be PERFECT for this. Might have to copy you there. Just don’t let Dad get too close to it. He lives for this stuff as you know!

  2. Mary says:

    Great photos and story, and the toffee looks like a perfect wintry day activity.

  3. Maman says:

    The only problem with this toffee is the desire to eat it ALL
    in one fell swoop.
    You’re right, Erina………making this is one of winter’s thrills.
    Almost as much fun as bonfires and brothers!

    • Erina says:

      Cousin Margot and I may have got in bed to watch a movie the other night with a bottle of wine and consumed an entire bag of toffee. Tummies were hurting, but we were happy!

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