English Toffee often delights the gourmet, but as well, sparks debate about its origins. Toffee of any kind could be made either in a hard form, covered in nuts and perhaps chocolate, or it could be somewhat soft and chewy. Food historians suggest both forms of toffee originated at about the same time in the early 1800s.
Americans are used to considering English toffee as a hard, buttery candy that may be coated in nuts and chocolate. Alternately, English toffee might be a slab of toffee merely topped with chocolate and a sprinkling of nuts. The first form can be easily found in the popular candy Almond Roca®, but the slab form is also recognizable and popular.
In England, English toffee is often served individually wrapped. It frequently has nuts added, but it may not be the hard form more familiar to Americans. Instead it may be sticky and chewy, and what most Americans would refer to as taffy, such as saltwater taffy.
Most often the ingredients for any of the variants are relatively similar. What differs is cooking time, and whether the candy is pulled. Most recipes are a mix of butter, and brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup. The candy is boiled until it reaches a certain temperature.
For example, the slab type of English toffee is usually boiled to the hard crack stage about 310 F (154.44 C). It is then poured out in a thin layer, preferably onto a marble board. It is allowed to cool almost completely before chocolate chips are added and smoothed over the toffee as they melt. A layer of nuts, usually almonds or walnuts, is added to the chocolate before it hardens as well.
This form of English toffee is then cracked into pieces, which can vary in size. It will keep well for several weeks when packed in reasonably airtight containers away from heat sources.
Thickness of the English toffee slab can vary. A thicker toffee can be prepared by pouring the candy into a smaller pan instead of onto a marble board. There is no one desired thickness layer.
English toffee similar to Almond Roca® is made by cutting the toffee into small pieces prior to it cooling completely. The pieces are dipped in chocolate and then nuts. Some recipes add nuts to the sugar/butter mix as well. The pieces may be wrapped, or when fully cooled can be packed together.
The slab form of English toffee has also inspired the English toffee cookie. This is technically not candy. It is rather a think layer of shortbread covered and baked with toffee nut mixture and then covered with chocolate chips, which melt over the toffee. Many find this a superlative cookie to offer friends during the holiday season.