When Sam started Reception in September, nothing prepared me for the level of organisation you need as a parent. It’s like some kind of mental agility test on a daily basis.
Today you need to remember to dress your child in blue, next Wednesday they must dress as a nursery rhyme character, this Friday can they please bring in a teddy bear and two weeks on Wednesday it’s non-uniform day so can you also bring in a bottle for the Christmas fair tombola! If I didn’t program all of this into my phone to bleep to remind me what to do every day I’d be in big trouble.
Another task on our endless to-do list was to decorate and fill a jam jar with sweets to be sold at the Christmas Fair. I saw this is a fab excuse to try and some recipes for home-made sweets.
After a bit of research I found a very appealing looking recipe on pastry chef David Lebovitz’s website. The pictures looked so stunning and it seemed relatively simple so I decided to give it a whirl.
I enlisted the help of Sam and he was very keen to chop up the chocolate – funny that! I kept him well clear of the boiling sugar, but there were loads of other jobs that kept him happily involved. From pulsing the nuts into pieces in the mini processor to placing the chunks of chocolate on the hot toffee and watching it melt.
I’ve never made toffee before, but now that I have a thermometer for jam-making i’ve got all the right gear.
It was quite exciting waiting for the temperature to rise (I need to get out more clearly). I was sure something was going to burn or go wrong, but it was pretty straightforwards actually.
I thought removing it from the baking sheet might be particularly tricky, but with a bit of a nudge from a palette knife it came off in one clean piece onto the chopping board ready to be broken up into bite-size morsels.
We decorated an old instant coffee jar with gold reindeers, twine and bells all from Hobbycraft. All in all a pretty respectably festive result, and I feel pretty proud of our first efforts…
Chocolate Almond Buttercrunch Toffee
2 cups (8 ounces, 225 g) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between ‘fine’ and ‘coarse’
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick, 115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
a nice, big pinch of salt
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 g) packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips
1. Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil.
2. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) on the baking sheet.
3. In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.
4. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the bicarb and vanilla.
5. Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it.)
6. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer.
7. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.
8. Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container, for up to ten days.
Some useful tips from David about making sweets:
Read the recipe thoroughly before proceeding and have everything ready.
Make sure your thermometer is accurate. If you’re not sure, bring a pot of water to a boil. It should read 212 degrees if you live at sea level. I use a glass candy thermometer, although the digital ones work as well.
Be careful dealing with hot syrups. A good precaution is to have a large bowl of iced water handy. If you spill syrup on your hand, plunge it immediately into the water to stop the burn.The best way to clean a caramelized pan is to fill it with water and bring it to a boil. Let stand until the syrup melts away.
Every once in a while, candy doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s too humid, or the sugar decides to crystallize (don’t encourage it by overstirring), or the planets aren’t aligned. Don’t get discouraged; it happens even to professionals.