Of all the holiday treats presented to me throughout the years, all the cookies, candies, chocolates, and cakes--it is my mom's Christmas toffee that wins the blue ribbon in my book.  Sweet, buttery, and crunchy.  First prize.

I can't really recall a Christmas without it.  In the '90s I remember coming home from elementary school and seeing the large puddles of it, spread on sheets of tin foil, cooling outside on the back porch.  I was always worried that pine needles or bugs would fall into the oozy chocolate coating, but they never did; and to this day the best way to cool the toffee is outside in the frosty open air.  When I went away to college and came home for the holidays, I usually missed out on the cooking and cooling process; Mom would make it ahead of time and have it waiting for my arrival, all gussied up in a holiday tin or red and green basket.  Needless to say, the toffee didn't last long in our house and was usually looong gobbled up by December 25th.

So this year I decided it was high time that I learn how to make the stuff on my own.  And while the toffee and Christmas are synonymous for me, now that I know its secrets I can't promise that I'll be able to hold out for a full year without making some more...so if you show up at my door in July, don't be surprised if you spy a mid-year batch sitting prettily on my kitchen table.


2 sticks butter
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
1 bag chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

For such a decadent dessert, it's sinfully simple to make.  Dump the butter, sugar, and vanilla into a large pot; stir on high heat until the butter is melted down.

When the mixture begins to bubble,

pour in the water and keep stirring at high heat.  Be very careful to stir the ENTIRE time, to keep your toffee from burning!

The mixture will soon begin to thicken and bubble vigorously.  Scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to be sure that the toffee does not stick.  Stir, stir, stir.

The cooking time for your toffee is the trickiest part of the recipe; you really have to eyeball it.  You must let it go until it almost burns, but not quite.  For me, on the electric stove of my mother's, that meant about 7 minutes.  I imagine the time could be longer or shorter on a gas stove, where the heat can be more finely controlled.  You can do a little test by quickly dipping an ice-cold spoon into the mixture; when you pull it out, a finished toffee will harden nicely.

Then it's time to pour the gloop onto two sheets of buttered tin foil.

Immediately sprinkle on the little Hershey's morsels!  The toffee is so hot they'll melt before your eyes.

Painting with chocolate...candy/art, art/candy...

You can make a pretty design with the brush if you like.  This would also be the time to sprinkle on the optional chopped pecan pieces; I would have done so if we hadn't run out the day I made this recipe.  When the decorating is finished and the candy has hardened just enough to form two large solid pieces, carefully place the sheets in a cool area.  This may mean in your refrigerator if you have space; but as I said earlier, the quickest way (and the Jan Way) is to lay them on a table outside.  The December air will do good things for them.

When the sheets have cooled, break them up into large shards.

Now you can arrange them on a plate, store them in a gift tin, hang them from the Christmas tree, decorate a sweater, whatever you like.  The pieces are so delectable that you'll probably start wanting to coat the holiday ham with them.  I've even heard they're good on Brussels sprouts.  Whatever you do though, just be sure to make like Mama Jan and share them with those you love.

But remember, they won't last long.

I hope everyone had a very merry holiday season, but as it is now January 1st of 2011, I'll have to stop writing about Christmas foods for now.  Until next year!

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