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Toffee disaster - what went wrong?

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I attempted to make toffee at home last night and it was a complete disaster. After heating the butter and sugar (and 3 tbsp) of water, everything was fine, coming along nicely, heading towards 300 degrees on the candy thermometer, and then the whole thing just broke. It separated into a curdled mess with a pool of liquid on top. Then it browned and nearly ruined my All Clad pan.

What the heck happened? I've made this recipe before, and it never did this on those other occasions. Could it be the quality of butter? The heat source? I'm mystified. Your help is greatly appreciated.

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  1. Were you using pure cane sugar? It would say that on the sugar package. Also, had you calibrated your thermometer?

    1. .
      From the Land o Lakes website.

      Separation: The Most Common Toffee Pitfall
      Toffee sometimes separates during cooking or when spread onto the pan, leaving a buttery layer on the surface and a thicker mixture underneath.
      To avoid separation, there are several things you can do:

      1) Be patient because candy takes a long time to cook. Don't rush the process by turning up the heat. This can cause the liquid to evaporate quickly which may lead to toffee separation.

      2) Stir occasionally and gently with a wooden spoon until mixture reaches between 260-265 ° F (127-130 ° C). Continue cooking, stirring as few times as possible, until mixture reaches 300° F (149° C). Stirring too much contributes to toffee separating. It is important to keep the mixture from burning, so stir gently once in a while.

      If the butter toffee does separate, we suggest that you first allow it to continue cooking. The toffee may remix on its own.

      If it doesn't, we recommend gradually and very carefully stirring in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time, while cooking until mixture goes back together. Be careful when adding water to the very hot mixture -- it may spatter causing a burn. Adding the hot water lowers the temperature of the toffee mixture; therefore, continue cooking the butter toffee until it reaches the correct temperature.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mochi mochi

        I can only echo the admonition to be very, very careful if adding water into this mix. It could react quite explosively and you wouldn’t want to get any of it on your skin...Or even clothes, for that mater.

        I do think the proposed method is sound.... Just be careful, is all I’m saying.

        Uncle Ira

      2. Interesting about the stirring, since the recipe specified for stirring continuously whilst the mixture was cooking. I did use pure cane sugar, though. I'll try making it again within the next few days.

        Thanks!

        1. It happens to me sometimes too. I just keep stirring and it turns our fine. I use a cast iron pan when I make toffee and it's easy to clean up. I don't use a therometer. I just drop some of the mixture into a bowl of water and it's done when it is crackly and you can't feel the grain in the sugar.

          1. The separation of the sugar and butter you experienced was due to temprature. By temprature I mean that your candy cooking was halted and the temprature went in the wrong direction. This can be caused by a few different things.

            1. your stove temprature was not hot enough
            2. you over stirred the candy, introducing cooler air into the mixture

            On your next batch try stirring a little less and kick the heat up a bit.

            If you get completely frustrated and just want some great Almond Toffee, order some online at www.ArizonaToffee.com

            1. I believe it to be the brand of butter used for the toffee. When I used Costco butter to make my second batch of the day, the toffee broke. The first batch I made with a more expensive butter was beautifully perfect, just like it always is. I think some cheap butters have much less cream in them which causes said toffee disaster. I think i'll ask Alton Brown about this.

              1. I've tried EVERY toffee trick out there, and there is only one tip that works. Just use salted butter as apposed to unsalted, and it will come out perfect every time.