It's easy to identify traditional holiday cooks. They're the ones who can't wait to get started on the holiday candy list. Although some of us always plan to make homemade candy, the real cooks actually follow through. They mail candy to friends and relatives on a timely basis, accompanied by sweet little notes, and naturally they have extra holiday tins ready in case they need a last minute gift.
While I am not quite so dedicated, I do manage to prepare some candy. Okay. I confess that I mail exactly four boxes and, with luck, they reach their intended locations before January 1 with a hastily scribbled note. I also send candy that I like, since I can't see any reason to mail someone candy I don't like. I am fond of pralines so I usually prepare at least one batch each December, expecting to eat most of them myself. However, in order to avoid any holiday grumbling, two other recipes are always on my family's list.
The other holiday candy is a variation of English Toffee. Toffee is made from butter and sugar, plus a bit of cream or water, and must be cooked until it reaches at least 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. It's then cut into rectangles, rolled in tempered chocolate and coated with finely chopped almonds. The process isn't all that difficult, but it is a bit tedious.
The recipe that follows is an easier version, producing great toffee with much less work. Substituting pecans for the traditional almonds turns the candy into Texas Toffee, although either may be used.
These candies are easy to make and both keep well. They are also delicious holiday or hostess gifts. Present an older friend or relative (or even an adventurous young adult) with a tin full of Date Loaf, and I will bet you'll be rewarded with a big smile. Don't bother with children or teenagers, they'll just whine about the dates. But they will love the Texas Toffee. Everyone does.
Date Loaf Candy
Place the sugar, milk, dates and salt in the pan, stirring to combine. Place over medium-high heat and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer registers 238 degrees. Remove from the heat. Add the pecans, stirring to blend. Cool 10 minutes.
Use a wooden spoon and begin stirring the candy until it is very thick, about 5 minutes. Wet a clean piece (about 12 x 18-inches) of an old cup towel in cold water and wring it out completely. Spread the fabric on the counter and spoon the candy lengthwise down the center. Fold the edges of the fabric over the candy to help shape it into a smooth roll. Wrap securely and leave the candy at room temperature about 4 hours. Remove the towel.
Cut the candy in ¼-inch slices. Wrap in plastic wrap or store between layers of wax paper in a tin.
Combine the butter, sugar and water in a heavy sauce pan. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Immediately pour the candy onto the cookie sheet and spread it in a thin layer about 1/8-inch thick. Scatter the Hershey pieces over the candy and allow to melt for about one minute. Use a knife to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Sprinkle with the nuts.
Allow the candy to cool completely. Break into pieces and store in an air-tight container, layered between wax paper.
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