When I was a child, there weren't a lot of sweets in our house, but come Christmastime, little teasing bits of my mom's holiday toffee would show up in my normally sugar-starved lunch bag during the week before school let out. Then, during our annual Christmas Eve tamale party, huge platters would appear, with piles of the stuff stacked high like poker chips.
Though I moved across the country almost twenty years ago, she hasn't missed a single season of toffee. These days if Mom isn't visiting for the holidays, she mails it to me, wrapped in little cellophane bags. If you can stand to share, a batch of Skillet Toffee makes a great gift for someone many zip codes away.
A cast-iron skillet helps get the sugar hot, but any skillet will do. A candy thermometer will help you hit the right temperature for the perfect hard-candy texture, though going by color — looking for a deep auburn hue — will also work.
1 pound unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup chopped toasted blanched almonds
Line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch x 15-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. As the butter melts, stir in the sugar and salt. Continue stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon, keeping the sides of pan clean by brushing occasionally with a wet pastry brush. The mixture should bubble as you stir. Cook until the mixture turns a deep auburn brown and registers 300°F on a candy thermometer, taking care not to burn it. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour the mixture onto the lined baking sheet. Allow it to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then sprinkle the mixture with the chocolate. When the chocolate looks glossy, spread it with an offset cake spatula or a wooden spatula, and sprinkle with the nuts. Gently press the nuts into the chocolate with the palms of your hands.
Cool completely (at least 6 hours) then break the toffee into chunks.