Thursday, April 29, 2010

More fun with molten sugar

Today I took the day off because I was exhausted. Too much stress. I napped a while, drank some coffee, lazed around, and then... the kitchen started calling me. So I threw some butter, sugar, water and salt into a kettle and put the heat under it.  Soon the mixture started to bubble and foam up. I moderated the flame, clipped a candy thermometer into the pot, and posted myself there, pizza slice in one hand and silicone spatula in the other, stirring and munching. Sugar work requires patience. For me to be patient with pot stirring, I need distraction.
 The solution started out quite blond, but as the water cooked out and the temperature started to rise, it assumed a nice golden color. Still, it took quite a bit of time. I got through at least three games of solitaire on my phone, plus one slice of pizza and one lager before the boiling candy got up to 298 F. I took the pan off the stove, stirred in some vanilla, and threw the batch onto a couple of silicone sheets. A great thing about toffee is that it's so full of butter it doesn't stick to a darn thing. But I love the silicone mats so I used them out of habit. I left the toffee to cool and started chopping some almonds I'd toasted earlier. There's something meditative about hand-chopping nuts, so I seldom use a food processor. If I ever go commercial, of course I'll have to revise this approach, but for now I use my trusty chef knife and enjoy the rhythmic work. Then cleaned up the work space.
Years ago, when I first started working with chocolate at home, I'd get chocolate all over everything and leave cleanup for when I was done. These days, I keep a very clean, very organized work space. Chocolate goes where I mean for it to; if it strays, I immediately clean it up. I work more efficiently this way, and cleanup at the very end is much reduced.
Once the toffee was cool, I dusted it with cocoa to matte the oily surface, then tempered some chocolate and spread that over the surface. A generous layer of chopped almonds followed this, and a dusting of sea salt. Once the chocolate had set, I flipped the slab and coated the other side in the same manner, then set both slabs aside on a large cutting board and cleaned up the silicone mats and the chocolate-processing equipment. Then I broke the slabs up and sampled the finished product. Taste was exactly what I'd hoped for. Nice balance of sweet and salty. Texture was good, but could be improved. It was a tad shardy, when it should have been crumbly. Next time I'll add a little baking soda to the batch. Not enough to make it a brittle, but just enough to make the batch a little more tender.   
Now the toffee is portioned into two batches -- one for me to take to work, and one for my husband to take to his. Our coworkers are the main recipients of all my work. It's how we keep from gaining major pounds from my chocolatiering obsession.

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