Perfect English Toffee

One of my FAVORITE holiday treats is English toffee. I love this stuff.  My aunt made this for our family every year for Christmas. I looked forward to it every year! When I grew up and got a place of my own I asked her for the recipe so that I could start making it for gifts.

My first batch of toffee 8 years ago was…gritty. Eww. And soft. I was SO bummed! But I wasn’t going to give up. Making it is so much cheaper than buying it so I kept trying. And the second batch turned out great!

I’ve also been the recipient of soft and under-cooked toffee from friends and not only is the texture off, but when it is under cooked it tastes bad too. So I’ve taken step by step photos of how I make toffee. An easy guide to making the perfect English toffee. It actually isn’t hard and uses pretty basic ingredients!

First you will need to line baking sheets with foil. One baking sheet per batch. As you can see I made a lot this day. By the end of the day I had 6 batches of toffee done.
Your ingredients:
1 c. butter (DO NOT use margarine)
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
Heat all of your ingredients in a nice sturdy sauce pan on med heat until butter is melted. Turn temp up to med-high and stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Set your timer for 5 minutes and DO NOT let ANYTHING disturb you while you stir. Kids, door bell, phone. You must keep stirring your butter/sugar mixture so that it does not burn. And you must use a WOODEN spoon. I’m not sure why, but that’s just what I was told.
After 2 minutes it should look something like this in the photo above.
After 4 minutes it has lost it’s yellow color and is turning brown. It is also looking frothy. But it is not done until it has turned the color of a brown paper bag. It may look done and you  may think it is burning, but trust me. Keep stirring until your timer goes off. It may even smoke a tiny bit and that is ok. If you are really concerned, lift you pan off of the burner (while you are still stirring) to remove it from the heat, but still stir until your timer goes off.
And here it is after 5 minutes. Nice and BROWN. There is a definite difference between 4 and 5 minutes of cooking. That extra minute makes all the difference in the texture.
Immediately pour onto your foil-lined baking sheet. Lightly scrape the sides of the pan, but do not scrape the bottom. As you pour, the bottom will brown and you don’t want that in your toffee.
Tilt the pan back and forth to even out your toffee into a rectangle about 8×11″ in size.
Fill your pan with hot water and set aside. It will start dissolving the toffee left inside and make it easier to clean for the next batch if you are making a lot.
Perfect color. Perfect texture. Let cool. It should harden within a couple of minutes.
  Here is mine after 3 batches. You can see it has hardened and isn’t sticking to the foil.
And now for the fun part. Chocolate! Melt Ghirardelli bricks, Wilton melting chocolate or any other variety of melting chocolate in the microwave at 30 second intervals until smooth. Spread across your toffee with a small spatula or butter knife. I use about 2 Ghirardelli bricks per batch. If you melt too much that’s ok, it will harden again and you can just microwave it again another time for another use. You can wait until the top hardens and then turn it over and spread more chocolate on the bottom, but I don’t think it is necessary for both top and bottom to be covered.
(My aunt would dip the toffee in chocolate so that it was covered on both sides instead of spreading on only one side like I do. To do that, just break the toffee in large sections after it hardens. Dip in melting chocolate and let set on waxed paper or foil. Once set, break into smaller bite sized pieces)
Sprinkle with toasted almonds, if desired, while chocolate is still soft. After it has set up, break into pieces.
And that is it! See, it’s not so hard! No temps, no candy thermometer, no special tools required.
Here are some more helpful hints that my aunt shared with me for perfect toffee…every time.
Do NOT double recipe
Must use WOODEN spoon

Use clean, dry pan for each new batch.
Cook over high- medium/high.
My stove is gas and tends to cook really hot, really fast. So I usually drop the heat to medium for my toffee, but in years past when I had a electric flat top stove, med-high worked best.
Store in an air tight container indefinitely.
 
I’ve received emails with success stories and some that had batches that didn’t set up. I’ve added those emails to the comments section as well as my replies to those ladies in case the answers I gave could help other readers in the future.
Enjoy!

Comments

  1. says

    CountryBelle,

    I’ve never lived in high altitude so I am not sure if it makes a difference. Hopefully someone else will see this post with a good answer for you!

    Brandy
    Gluesticks

    • says

      I tried it this afternoon with success. Although, I should have pulled it off the stove maybe 5 secs sooner, just because I had a little bit darker syrup in spots. Otherwise awesome recipe! Tastes very similar to a skor bar. (I added coarse sea salt instead of almonds, cuz that’s what I had on hand) Yummy!

  2. says

    Hi Brandy,

    sorry i’m 12, and not terribly smart, so here goes:

    1) my stovetop isn’t labeled as med high, high; it only has the numbers 1-8. what should med-high be?

    2) i tried this and it turned out funny. i used butter that was frozen. next time, should i use room temperature butter?

    3) after the toffee is done, like a paper bag, what should the consistency be?

    my friend loves toffee so that’s why i tried to do this today :)

    thanks,
    amber

  3. says

    Hey Amber!!

    You have a lucky friend to receive this. Hopefully I can help with your next batch.

    Refrigerated butter is fine, but I haven’t ever used frozen. If you don’t have time to let some sit and soften, you can microwave it for a few seconds at a time (turning after every 6 seconds) until it softens.

    For a stove like yours I would cook it at a 6 for melting the butter/sugar and raise it to a 7 to boil it for the 5 minutes. If that seems too high, drop it back down to a 6.

    When the toffee is brown, it will be kind of frothy, like a little foamy in consistency. I hope that makes sense. It will look significantly different than just melted butter mixed with sugar like it did when you first set the timer.

    Let me know if you have any more questions!! :)

    Brandy
    Gluesticks

  4. says

    You know, I might even try this, as you make it look do-able. I have a sugar thermometer, but I like the sound of a recipe that just uses a timer and some basic observation skills. Thank you for sharing Aunt’s tips!

  5. says

    I always wondered about the wooden spoons, too, so I googled it. Here’s the first response I got:

    There are basically two reasons why a recipe would ask you to use of a wooden spoon.

    The first reason is mechanical. Wooden spoons are rounded, smooth, relatively soft and non-abrasive. This means that they are comfortable to hold when applying pressure to beat a mixture. The action of a wooden spoon is to push the ingredients together until they are blended. Always use a wooden spoon when making sauces unlike a metal spoon, they won’t transfer out the heat and mess with the temperature in unpredictable ways. If you are making sauces that are particularly troublesome, like hollandaise, this could solve curdling problems. Also, wooden spoons are less likely to damage nonstick pan surfaces.

    Metal spoons are harder and sharper, with an action which tends to,cut through the mixture. A wooden spoon is ideal for folding in ingredients that do not want over mixing such as adding flour to a creamed mixture or folding in egg whites. The design of a metal spoon does not make them very comfortable when hard beating is required and the hard, sharp edges of the spoon may cut or damage ingredients or the mixing bowl and scratch the coating on pots and pans.

    The second reason is chemical. Wood is an unreactive material and is unlikely to react with the ingredients in the mixture. Metal is more reactive, particularly with acidic ingredients, and is not suitable for use in some cases.

    Wooden spoons are an important utensil in the kitchen and most good cooks have more than one.

    You should always hand wash wooden spoons with soap and warm to hot water only. Never wash them in a dishwasher. If after washing the first few times they have a fuzzy feel to them, don’t be alarmed, this is natural. The grain will raise the first few times any wood is put into water. Some people refer to it as the curing process. Lightly buff them with a Scotchbrite Pad or fine sandpaper and then oil them with any edible oil. After buffing or sanding a few times they will stay smooth.

    • says

      Thanks for the info! I put my wooden spoons in the dish washer all the time, but will start washing them by hand. They are, by far, the ones I use the most and I need to not be so lazy and take care of them!

      Brandy
      Gleusticks

  6. says

    From Amber:

    Hi Brandy,

    I’m the 12 year old that asked a lot of questions about toffee making. I thought maybe you’d like to know that I’m the MASTER toffee maker right now. At school, I share a lot of what I make with my friends. They all LOVED the toffee.

    today was the 3rd time i made toffee. (i had to go to safeway after school to buy a box of butter, haha.) This time, I made it perfectly. it was BEAUTIFUL. I’ve sent pictures for you :). It looked like glass; super reflective.

    Making the toffee is very fun. Cleaning is kind of a hassle, but seeing the very reflective toffee is just so rewarding. On my previous batch, I marbled dark and white chocolate and it was too pretty to break apart and devour.

    I just wanted to thank you for your advice & easy instructions for toffee! I’ve had a wonderful experience with it; obviously, I love the toffee too.

    • says

      Hi Amber!

      I am SO GLAD you got back to me with the results! I am so impressed with your toffee. I think it is beautiful and I love the white chocolate chips on it too. Like I said in my blog post, my first batch FLOPPED and turned out gross, but the second one was much better. You’re a pro now and shouldn’t have any issues in the future! It is one of my favorite Christmas treats and so much cheaper to make than buying a Skor or Heath candy bar.

      Thanks again for the photos. I’d like to share one on my facebook page if is ok with you. It’s always fun to see my reader’s photos and results! Just let me know,

      Have a wonderful night!

  7. says

    tried leaving a comment on your blog, but didn’t succeed.

    I was very disappointed after trying your English toffee recipe. I followed all your instructions very very carefully and I ended with a goeey mess! My butter separated and it made an oil on top op the solids.

    Your recipe looked so delicious and easy.

    Just wanted to let you know it’s not as easy as you made it look. I still enjoy your blog.

    Regards,

    • says

      Hi Eclarien,

      I’m so sorry that yours didn’t turn out. I know how frustrating that can be because my first batch didn’t turn out either. I mentioned in my post that it was soft and didn’t set up. I followed the recipe exactly, even cooked it for 5 minutes, but there were a couple of things I realized as I made my second batch that helped. The second batch turned out great! I was kind of afraid tot cook it at med-high to high heat. I kept thinking that it was going to burn so I think I cooked it lower than I should have. And also, I started my timer too soon. The next time I made sure to start it after the mixture started boiling and then I kept stirring for 5 minutes even when it started to smoke a little. But every stove is different. My stove in this house cooks much higher and faster (it’s gas) than the stove at my other house (electric). So I have to adjust according to that. I hope you try making it again! I’d like to add your comment to my blog so that others can get troubleshooting help as well. I’ve had a couple of people email me with their success story. Amber (her comment is on my blog) had her first batch turn out soft, but after troubleshooting with me, she’s made 4 perfect batches since! I appreciate you letting me know!

      Brandy
      Gluesticks

      • Patty says

        Hi Brandy and Eclarein.

        I have been making toffee for several years now. My family and friends love it! With regards to the separation of the butter from the sugar, I have had this happen to me whereby the chocolate does not adhere to the toffee because there was on oil slick of butter on it. Sometimes I would dab the toffee with a paper towel to sop it up. But what works best for me is to stir with a small whisk, this way the butter and sugar remain incorporated and don’t separate out. I really don’t think it is a big deal to have to use a wooden spoon, the pan you are cooking the toffee in itself it metal! So what is the big deal to have to use a wooden spoon? The pan I always use is copper on the outside stainless steel on the inside. The whisk is of good quality. I have found this helps a lot. I also use a candy thermometer. There are differences of opinion as to what degree the toffee needs to get to so I use the ice water drop method and if it hardens up and has a good crunch factor, I quickly pull it off the heat and pour it in the prepared pan.

        Have fun making toffee!

        Patty

    • Birdy says

      I googled it too, and it said the most common cause for separating is changes in temperature. I don’t know how to solve this problem for this recipe, but i think that all ingredients should be at room temperature before placing in the pan, and when you take it off the heat, the heat shouldn’t be lowered too suddenly.

    • says

      Oh wonderful! I’m so glad you liked it and that it turned out perfect for you! There is a science to it, but when it comes out it is sooo good! Thanks for giving me feedback and have a wonderful night!

      Brandy

    • says

      Your experience sounds like my first experience too! The first batch flopped, but it’s been great ever since! So glad you enjoyed it!

  8. tarlena says

    I tried this but it didn’t work. I ended up with a pan full of “goeey mess” (as in Eclarien’s comment). I managed to save it though by adding 1 cup of thick cream; it’s delicious caramel sauce now :)

    I will however try this recipe again. After reading the comments I suppose the cooking temperature was not high enough. So I’ll give it a second try, hope it turns out just as delicious as in your pictures.

    • says

      Yes! Most likely it was the cooking time. Don’t be afraid to see a little smoke start. Just keep stirring like mad so that it doesn’t burn. If you need to raise the pan off the heat for a second you can do that and then return it back to the heat, but keep stirring the whole time. Undercooked toffee will not set up right. It’s definitely worth a second shot!

      Glad you could save it! That sounds delicious!

  9. Sandra says

    Just wanted to let you know that the first time I tried this recipe it came out perfect, however the second time wasn’t as great. The toffee turned out soft and sugary and wouldn’t set. I figured I just didn’t cook it long enough. My question is can i put it back and cook it again after it has cooled. I hate wasting ingredients but I didn’t try to cook it the second time.

    • says

      I hate wasting ingredients too, especially 1 cup of butter! I’m so sorry that happened, but at least you know you can make a good batch like the first one. I agree, the second batch probably didn’t cook long enough. I honestly didn’t have an answer for your question so I found a forum online and someone posed the same question. The consensus was that it wouldn’t hurt to try to reheat it, but it most likely wouldn’t set up right. If you do try it, I’d love to know how it turns out in the end. This would be good to know for others who may have the same problem!

  10. Laurie Shannon says

    My first batch was the aforementioned disaster. But I just made my second, and it is beautiful and perfect! It definitely was the heat. It needed to be medium high for me. On my electric range (which is crazy and runs hot), I cooked the toffee on #8. The first try I cooked it on #6 – and the butter separated in the last minute and all was lost. Thanks for the recipe! I’m sending the first batch to my son who is serving as a Corpsman in the Navy (but with the Marines) in the Middle East. Cheers and happy holidays to all.

    • says

      Hi Laurie! I’m glad it turned out for you. Now you know which setting works for your stove and it should be smooth sailing every time after! Happy Thanksgiving and a huge thank you to your son for his service. Being away from family during this time of year is a big sacrifice. The Nelson family thanks you!

  11. says

    Well, no luck here after trying to batches. :-( . I have made toffee for the past 5+ years with no problems. This year I can’t get it too work – so I tried yours – 1st batch on med/high heat for 5 minutes and it was grainy and supersoft. 2nd batch I turned the heat up even more and it started separating at the end and the color still was not dark – I added a touch of water to bring it back together and still couldn’t get it. :-(. Thanks.

    • says

      Hi Colleen,
      I am so sorry to hear this! When did you start your timer? I set my timer for 5 minutes when it started to slightly bubble my first time, but then it didn’t cook long enough. After that, I didn’t set it until it was in a full boil and then it cooked long enough to turn “paper bag brown”. It sounds like you know what you are doing, but that would be my only suggestion if you are up for trying it out again. It is so frustrating to waste time and food!

  12. Meghan says

    I bombed the microwave peanut brittle (I’m trying again tomorrow!) but this… The toffee is perfect! Crisp, buttery, chocolatey goodness. Thank you so much for posting such an easy, clear recipe. My first time making any kind of candy on the stovetop (ok, so I made divinity right before this, but it didn’t require the stirring or the eye), and it turned out great! Thank you!

    • says

      Awesome!! So glad it turned out fantastic. It’s my favorite candy recipe! The peanut brittle isn’t user error as much as figuring out what works best for your microwave. Actually, if you click through to the link I shared (where I found this exact recipe) you can read reviews of how others tinkered with the timing and had great results. Hope that helps!

  13. says

    Thank you so much for the detailed instructions! I tried making toffee today for the first time. I used a different but very similar recipe to yours and of course, it didn’t turn out. Between your detailed instructions and all of the comments, I realize that I didn’t have my heat high enough. Also, someone told me not to use nonstick cookware for it. Does anyone have advice about nonstick cookware for this recipe?

    • says

      Yes! Heat plays a major factor. Don’t be afraid to see a tiny bit of smoke right before you pull it off the stove. That’s where I went wrong with my first batch years ago. I don’t have any advice about nonstick cookware. I use a basic saucepan, nice and sturdy. The only thing I’ve heard it to use a sturdy, heavy pan. Not sure why, but I’m assuming it will distribute the heat evenly. Good luck! I’m sure your second batch will be amazing!

  14. Connie says

    Is there any way to salvage toffee that’s too soft? I brought it up to 300 as required by our family recipe, but maybe too quickly. It’s got almonds in it and is covered with chocolate. Can I reheat it… or anything else?

    • says

      Hi Connie, I’m not sure! Once it had the chocolate on it, I’m not sure if there is a way to salvage or turn it into something else. So sorry that happened!

  15. Kelly says

    Hi Brandy,
    Thank you so much for this detailed recipe. I made two batches in a row that were absolutely perfect. Here I am a week later and I made a batch and it’s a disaster. The butter and the sugar separated in the pan and never pulled back together. Any suggestions?

  16. Danielle says

    Thank you so much for the instructions! So easy to follow, and my first batch turned out perfectly. I cooked mine longer than specified, but I was really hesitant to turn up the heat first, especially when it started to separate, then froth. I will definitely make this again, and show my friends your instructions. Thanks again!

    • says

      Wonderful! So glad to hear and the timing is just a guide, you really have to go by the color and look of the toffee like you did! It’s my all time favorite treat. Have a wonderful week!

      Brandy

  17. haley says

    Has anyone tried halving the recipe? I know we’re warned against doubling. If it’s a fine idea, I’d rather waste that doomed trial run on less ingredients

  18. Polly says

    I just made toffee for the first time but came here afterwards. It looks okay(maybe too thin) and it set up okay but it just doesn’t taste rich and buttery. My recipe was butter and sugar. I also was trying to spread over the whole cookie sheet but I think that is why it is too thin but can’t figure out why it doesn’t taste rich or buttery. I used semi sweet chocolate

    • says

      Hi Polly! With using real butter I’m not sure why it wouldn’t taste buttery either! Did you use unsalted butter? That may cause the taste to come out different than salted butter. I’d give it another try, it’s so good it is definitely worth a second batch! And don’t worry about trying to spread it over the entire pan. Just pour it all out and give the pan a little tilt to spread it somewhat. Mine is usually about 1/4″thick before adding chocolate and nuts.

  19. Lauren says

    Hi Brandy!

    Just made my first batch of your toffee and it came out pretty much exactly like you said it would! Your very clear instructions made it a breeze, and I’ll now be making several more batches to give as Christmas presents. I’ve never made sweets before since all of the recipes I’ve looked at needed a sugar or candy thermometer, so your method is perfect for a student with limited funds!

    Happy Christmas!

    Lauren
    Edinburgh, Scotland

    • says

      Hi Lauren! Fantastic! And you’re a quick study! Like I said in my post, my first batch was a total flop, but with practice it got better! Thanks so much for coming back and letting me know how it turned out. Merry Christmas to you in Scotland!

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