This is an easy and delicious home-made sweet. Cinder toffee is made with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda in the mix. They react together so it froths before it sets into millions of little bubbles, and hardens into something a lot like toffee-flavoured pumice stone. Any taste of vinegar is neutralised, leaving you with a buttery toffee flavour. It’s a recipe which I don’t cook very often although I love it, because it inevitably leads to my eating the whole batch and then feeling really bad about my thighs.
Here in the UK, cinder toffee (also called honeycomb toffee) has a formative role in our childhoods as the shatteringly crisp stuff that Cadbury’s put inside Crunchie Bars. I actually prefer it without chocolate, but if you enjoy a chocolatey morsel just melt some milk chocolate over a bain marie, dip the hardened chunks in and firm up on greaseproof paper.
In the Cork and Bottle, a London wine bar specialising in a big chunk of meat called the Hemingway Burger, the New Zealand staff call cinder toffee ‘hokey pokey’, and use it in a very fabulous ice cream. I have held back from eating all the stuff I made yesterday and will use the rest in a creamy, malty ice cream over the weekend. Watch this space for the recipe.
To make one thigh-swelling batch of delicious toffee, you’ll need:
50g salted butter
4 teaspoons malt vinegar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
450g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
(American readers can buy golden syrup at Amazon. Golden syrup is a by-product of the sugar refining process, with a delicious light golden toffee flavour. We use it in the UK in many of the situations where maple syrup is used in America. Don’t be tempted to substitute corn syrup or honey – they won’t taste the same, or have the same characteristics when heated.)
Grease a large baking tin with butter (mine was 11 x 7 inches). Heat the butter, water and vinegar together in a large saucepan with a jam thermometer (the saucepan should be larger than you think necessary – remember that this recipe will froth and swell) until the butter has melted. Stir in the sugar and golden syrup over the heat until they dissolve. Stop stirring, and bring to the boil. Keep boiling without stirring until the toffee reaches the hard crack stage on your thermometer (if you don’t have a jam thermometer, a teaspoon of the molten toffee dropped into a saucer of cold water at hard crack stage will form brittle into strands and crack when you try to shape it). ***Update – it is incredibly important that your toffee really does reach hard crack stage, which is 154°C, or else it may sink after rising.*** Be careful – the mixture will be unbelievably hot, and very dangerous if there are children or pets around. Remove the toffee from the heat, and gently stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
Startling frothing will occur. Keep stirring gently until the bubbles settle down a bit, then pour the mixture into your greased tin. Wait for between ten and twenty minutes until the mixture is set up but still warm, and break the toffee into pieces. Lay these pieces out on a wire rack until the sweets are cool, then transfer to an air-tight container (or your mouth).