Bittersweet Almond Toffee

My husband and I had our 16th (!!!)  wedding anniversary this month and I have been thinking about how much has happened since that day. All the decisions that we have made to create this life that we are living right now. Each year builds on the last. I truly feel I comprehend the depth of the words of our vows. We have been through better and worse, richer and poorer, and sickness and health and we keep coming back to the table day after day and decide once again to choose each other.

fullsizeoutput_48d3fullsizeoutput_48d2

This toffee was one of the first recipes I remember making that wasn’t made because of our childhood experiences. I don’t remember eating toffee as a child and it wasn’t a recipe passed down from any family member. After impatiently waiting for it to cool, I snapped off a couple pieces and we each took a bite. Our taste buds lit up in satisfaction and I that this too we agreed on and would bring with us through the years.

fullsizeoutput_48d4

Halloween is the quintessential candy holiday and mine is going to include one of my favorite homemade version. I love the uneven shards of chocolate covered caramel. Like most candies, the ingredients are simple and the steps are pretty fail proof if you have a trusty candy thermometer.

fullsizeoutput_48cd

Ready to take a crack at it? Maybe it will become a part of your family as well.

Bittersweet Almond Toffee

Makes about 1 1/2 pounds

Adapted from Better Homes and Garden – which happens to be the first cookbook I received for our wedding. Correctly reading the thermometer is the most important step in making successful toffee. Before starting the ingredients to simmer, take a good look at your thermometer and determine which line is 290 degrees. This will help you move confidently through the steps without wasting precious time deciphering the temp. Also, make sure that the bulb of the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan as this will give a false reading. As the mixture thickens you may have to spoon the mixture over the bulb to get an accurate reading.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 4 oz (1 baking bar) bittersweet chocolate
  • Flaky sea salt for finishing (such as Maldon)

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with foil and spread 1/2 cup toasted almonds on the foil. Set aside. Combine butter, sugar, fine sea salt, water and corn syrup in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to mix the ingredients as they melt. Once the mixture boils, turn down to medium and clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan. As the mixture simmers, chop the chocolate bar and set aside. Every couple minutes give the pan a good stir with a wooden spoon.

Once the mixture starts to thicken, stir more often and keep an eye on the thermometer. It can quickly go from done to scorched. You can tell it is getting close when it is starting to get some color and smells more of caramel. Yum! Once the the thermometer hits 290 degrees, evenly pour the candy over the almonds. Use a spatula to get everything out of the pan and to smooth the candy if needed. Let cool until set (about 5 minutes).

Next, sprinkle the chocolate over the candy and let melt for a minute or two. Use the spatula to spread the chocolate completely over the caramel layer. Sprinkle with remaining almonds and flaky sea salt. Place baking sheet in refrigerator to firm up the chocolate. Once cool, break into pieces and store in the refrigerator or freezer. It will keep for a long time.

New York Cheesecake

My husband and I had our 14th wedding anniversary in October and I found myself a bit surprised by it. Not because I still feel (or look!) like I’m in my 20s or that the years have whirled past so quickly, but because of the love we still share. I’m surprised that after all he’s seen of me – the meltdowns, the post baby body, the way I leave hair ties everywhere – that I am still loved. I really can’t explain it. Shouldn’t I have been traded in for a newer model? Yet, I find myself so thankful for all the little ways that love manifests itself in our daily lives. Love that pulls me in and comforts, protects, listens, and cares.

Still, fear lurks around the corner. Fear that the love will dwindle. Fear that who I am and who he is someday won’t fit together as snugly as it does today. This fear can hinder me and make me more closed off, to communicate less clearly and honestly. Every time I give in to the fear, I feel distant, almost like a self fulfilling prophecy. Then, I realize that this is a battle of the mind and heart. Love takes courage and honesty. I think this is when I truly feel the deep, soul fulfilling love in our marriage, when I am accepted and loved through the hard conversations. So, I thought it was time to face another fear: cheesecake. Water baths, jiggly filling, cracks, and funny springform pans. It all made me want to run and hide.

Now, most people I’m sure can just ignore cheesecake and move on to something a bit more comfortable, but my husband is not a huge dessert fan (gasp!) but the one cake that he does love is cheesecake. He requests it for every birthday. He’s a bit of a purist, and believes such add ins as pumpkin or chocolate over power cheesecakes delicate flavor, and I tend to agree. We stick to New York Cheesecake with its creamy and delicate texture and bit of crunch from the graham cracker crust. One year I decided to go for it and guess what? It was a disaster! Burnt and eggy, and just all wrong, we ate what we could and then decided to always buy one forever and always.

But you know how sometimes as much as you fear another failure, you just have to give it another whirl? Well, that’s how I felt about cheesecake. I just couldn’t let it go.

I bought all the ingredients, read articles, found a new recipe and even borrowed a pan from a friend. I was all set to go. Yet, I sat. For weeks. I really didn’t want to fail. Fear had me again. Finally, I decided it was now or never, so I jumped in.  You know what? It was the best cheesecake we had ever eaten! Not a failure! Success! I was stunned. Not a crack or a chalky custard. Smooth, creamy, and flavored just right. Fear did not prevail and that birthday cake will now come from my kitchen.

Ready to try your hand at it? Cheesecake success is just around the corner.

New York Cheesecake

I love a mile-high graham cracker crust for cheesecake and I think you will too. I followed Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Creamy Cheesecake and slightly adapted it by adding citrus zest.

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 3 cups graham crackers (about 1 box), ground fine in a food processor
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Cheesecake Filling:

  • 32 oz Original Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/4 + 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp citrus zest (I used orange and lemon)

Directions:

Put a large pot of water on the stove to simmer. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using heavy aluminum foil, tear two long pieces of foil and set in an X shape. Set a 9 inch springform pan in the center. Starting with one piece of foil, fold the foil up and press against the sides. Repeat with second piece of foil. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt. Pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir together until ingredients are well combined. The crumbs with hold their shape for a second when pressed together and will crumble slightly. It will look like wet sand. Press the graham crust around the edges and up to the top of the pan and continue on bottom of the pan. Use a measuring cup to gently press the crust until it is packed enough not to move when touched. Do your best to make the crust even in thickness. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The crust will be slightly golden around the edges when finished. Cool on a cooling rack while making the filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. In the bowl of the mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese until light and creamy, about 4 minutes on level 4 on a KitchenAid mixer. Keep the mixer running and add the sugar, salt, and vanilla and mix for another 4 minutes on medium speed. Lower the speed and mix the eggs in one at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Scrape after each additional egg. Once all the eggs have been added, increase the speed to medium and beat for another 30 seconds. Reduce the speed again and mix in sour cream and whipping cream until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Mix in citrus zest and scrape to make sure the batter is uniform in consistency. Pour batter into springform pan and level out with a spatula.

Place the springform pan inside a large roasting pan fitted with a rack. Place in oven. Carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the simmering pot of water and slowly pour into the roasting pan, being careful to not get any water inside the springform pan. The water should reach about 1/3 way up the sides of the pan. Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself!

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the cheesecake has a bit of a jiggle to it. Check it after an hour. Turn down the oven to 300 degrees if the cheesecake starts to puff or get brown spots. Now turn off the oven and prop open the door and let the cheesecake rest for another hour.

Take the roasting pan out of the oven and gently lift out the springform pan and remove the foil. There may be so water inside the foil so don’t be surprised. Set cheesecake on a cooling rack and let cool for 4 hours. Once cool, wrap in saran wrap and foil and chill in the refrigerator.

The next day, run a small spatula around the sides of the pan to make sure the crust is not attached to the pan and gently remove the sides of the springform pan. Using a warm chef’s knife, slice the cake into pieces and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers covered in plastic wrap or foil (or both!) for 3-4 days or freeze wrapped in saran wrap and foil and sealed in a ziplock bag.