1. Read Shauna Nieuqist’s book “Bread and Wine” for a book club.
2. Agree with the other clubbers that of course you will gather for a meal to discuss said book. Each of you will make a recipe from the book to share with everyone else.
3. Be last to decide what to make. (This is a very important step - do not skip by any means!)
4. Offer to bring the dessert. Take a second look at the book, feel uninspired by the brownies, raise your eyebrows about whipping mousse till your arm falls off, and decide “Hey, the toffee recipe is only supposed to take 10 minutes of cooking time! That looks pretty easy!”.
5. Blithely gather your ingredients over the next few days. The night before book club, put your children to bed, allow your husband to start the Neil deGrasse Tyson documentary, and tell him you’ll be joining him in “just a few minutes”.
6. Begin following the directions. Husband will note that you poured the sugar directly on top of your halfway melted butter, and will point out that he would have melted the butter all the way first. Make a snide remark in reply. This is an easy recipe. What does he know about it.
7. Faithfully stir the butter and sugar mixture, constantly as directed. Do this so furiously in your cheap saucepan that you end up with a blister at the base of your pinky finger. Just as your blister begins to form, the butter will separate out from the fluffy candy-like mixture you were stirring, and the mixture will turn into butter soup with oatmeal-like sugar chunks. Swear. A lot. Turn the temperature down and stir some more, hoping it won’t be so. Panic and make your husband turn down the sound on the documentary so you can THINK, DARNIT!!! Swear some more.
8. Blame your sugar. ”It must be that stupid American grown organic cane sugar grown on a 100% wind-powered farm. Its brown to start off with - THAT must be why I couldn’t tell when the mixture ‘bloomed amber’ - I probably overshot myself! I’ve lived in Boulder too long - seriously, I buy hippie sugar?”.
9. Explain to your husband that you have to drive to the store at 9:45 at night. Then cry because you were up late reading blogs last night, so this will make two nights in a row that you’ll be going to bed after he has gone to sleep, and you hate that. Husband will look at you with some exasperation, and give you an awkward hug. ”Get the cheap sugar this time, honey”, he says, in a desperate attempt to be helpful.
10. Go to the store. Along with your sugar, buy a meat thermometer that you are hoping will work as a candy thermometer. You no longer trust the chipper little instructions in the recipe that say you don’t need one. You already have a meat thermometer. But you worry that it won’t be enough.
11. Go home and realize that the thermometer you bought is not in essence any different than the one you have. Shrug and be glad you can return the new one unopened. Proceed to the bedroom and ask your spouse to pray for your candy-making before he falls asleep. He smiles and prays “Lord, let Steph’s candy-making go well - if it be your will!” (humorously referencing our community group study that night of Mark 14). Laugh a little and feel relaxed and ready to try again.
12. Try again. This time, panic and adjust the temperature sooner. Pour the resulting congealed mixture out on the tray. Realize its hopeless. Realize that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE at book club would care AT ALL if you just brought ice cream. Really, they’d be fine.
13. Remember your (brief) days of graduate school in organic chemistry, when lab mates told you “Two hours in the library saves two weeks in the lab!”. Do some online research. Check this site, http://challengedairy.com/tips-and-techniques/candymaking-with-butter, this one http://candy.about.com/od/carameltoffee/f/separate_faq.htm, and this one http://baking911.com/learn/baked-goods/candy/types/toffee . Looks like the problem is either stirring too fast, or the cheap cookware you own. Decide to try ONE more time. You’ve got more salted butter, right? Third time’s the charm, right? And these sites have all kinds of advice for how to fix the mix should things go wrong!
14. Try again. This time, you are stirring (mostly) gently. This time, the mixture stays fluffy for a good long time. Except that at the same time you THINK the amber color MIGHT be starting to appear, the mix separates. Again. Swear some and start to add that hot water the blogs talked about that might magically fix things. It doesn’t fix things. Panic and pour it out on the tray. Its still yellow. Decide you poured out too soon, scoop the mix all back into the pan, and start heating again. This time, you manage to actually get to that magical amber color. But the mix is still separated. Its still hopeless. Hold your head in your hands and say “This. This. THIS! This is why I was such a rotten research chemist! THIS is why I failed graduate school!” Except then, I was destroying months worth of work and thousands of dollars of expensive chemicals, not just a couple of (tens of) pounds of sugar and butter. Take a picture of your sugar and butter graveyard…
15. Look at the clock. It is now 11:45. Really, really, you should go to bed. But this is bugging you now. You’ve found two other blog sites that say this toffee is just easy-as-pie to make (http://www.abbyminteriorsblog.com/2013/11/dark-chocolate-butter-toffee-with-sea.html and http://sweetannieskitchenblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/dark-chocolate-sea-salted-toffee/), and let’s see… yes, there’s no more salted butter, but there’s unsalted butter in the fridge! Surely, one more try would be worthwhile? You note with your usual chagrin that the sites also say that the sugar and butter need to be mixed carefully in the beginning of the recipe, or their different temperatures can ALSO cause premature separation - sigh, because you hate it when your husband is right. Maybe candy thermometers were invented for a reason?
16. Do some more research. Examine the comments on one of the troubleshooting sites and decide that maybe it would be a good idea for a last go just to try a different recipe. A couple of sites have used just a little bit of corn syrup, and I happen to have some on hand. And that Nieuqist person - you just bet she rejected the corn syrup out of some super granola-y snobbery. Boulderite you may be, but you are not such a perfectionist - decide to try http://baking911.com/candy/toffee/foolproof-toffee instead. I mean, it SAYS foolproof… Locate the last remaining non-candy-encrusted wooden spoon in the house and swear to conquer this candy if it kills you!
17. You have to get butter out of the freezer, so by the time the butter is melted enough to begin adding the sugar, its 12:20am. Add the correct proportion of salt to the unsalted butter as recommended by the website tips. Add the sugar and the corn syrup and the water as advised in the new recipe. Stir calmly and cooly.
18. Put on dishwashing gloves to ease the pressure on your pinky blister.
19. Begin swearing again, this time because everything is boiling over. Imagine the face on your beloved husband, once known as “one of the neatest straight guys in Boulder”, upon seeing our stove burner encased in hard candy. Keep stirring and turn on the fan and pray the smoke alarm doesn’t wake everyone.
20. Hold your meat thermometer in your non-stirring hand. Stir slowly in meditative figure eights with both the thermometer and your spoon. Ignore the little spurts of fluid that continue to occasionally pop over the side of the pot and dribble down on the stove, causing little puffs of white smoke to arise like some sort of S.O.S. signal. Use the breath prayer you practiced during tonight’s (last night’s, by now) centering prayer exercise at community group. Since it is now 12:36am, this will cause you to begin to fall asleep while standing and stirring.
21. Shake yourself awake.
22. Repeat step 21 twice more. This new recipe calls for a lower temperature and likely that will mean a longer cooking time. Be patient. No, really. Be patient.
23. Notice that the color seems really slightly different - sort of an off-yellow caramel. Also notice that the thermometer now says 285 degrees. Slow your stirring waaaaaaaaaay down (with the help of more breath prayers). Watch the thermometer FINALLY say 300 degrees.
24. Quickly, before you can breathe, pour out the TOFFEE onto a tray prepared with parchment paper.
25. Look back and forth between the solid layer of candy and the graveyard of sugar concrete next to it. Feel an immense satisfaction that is definitely outweighed by the thought of what it will be like to parent your two extremely active boys tomorrow when there is no school while you are this tired. You promised to take them to the art museum. Driving… yeah…
26. Wisely decide to add the chocolate layer tomorrow.
27. Unwisely decide all of this is DEFINITELY worth a blog post. Spend the next hour and a half or so writing it. Put yourself to bed after 2am.
The End. :)
P.S. - When you wake up unfortunately not-at-all-late-enough the next morning, your husband will let you know that when you immersed the candy-encased meat thermometer in water to soak it, you also fried its electronics. Good thing you bought that other one…
P.P.S. - Stay tuned - adding the chocolate coating in the morning may yet induce more swearing…