There was, then, much rejoicing the day I discovered a recipe for chocolate toffee candies built upon a salty foundation of saltine crackers. Because if there's anything better than saltines -- at least in the realm of cracker-dom -- it's saltines smothered in bittersweet chocolate and toasty almonds. And buttery caramel. And frozen into sheets that can be broken into any desired size. So you can honestly state, "I just had one piece," and nobody has to know that "one piece" comprised half a baking sheet.
I'm not going to lie to you: I'm kind of salivating as I type this.
No doubt you've already begun your holiday baking, or at least you've started making lists in your head about which treats will make their annual appearance on your cookie tray, and which will be lovingly baked, tied into pretty cellophane bags and shared with friends and family. My list is long this year. And chocolate-almond saltine toffee is on it.
In the days to come I'll be writing about many of my favorite Christmas desserts. Some of them are very fancy, while others are basic and reflective of a childhood full of sweet pleasures. Some were part of each and every one of my Christmases growing up, some have only entered into my culinary repertoire over the past few years. Some are baked in out-of-the-ordinary cake pans and require specialized ingredients; another relies on a simple saltine for its structure, texture and flavor.
Come to think of it, we should all rely on the saltine. It's also not such a bad idea to rely on a slab of chocolate and a quarter-inch sheet of delectable toffee.
CHOCOLATE-ALMOND SALTINE TOFFEE
Adapted from "Food & Wine"
4 oz. sliced almonds (about 1 c.)
50-60 saltine crackers (a little over one sleeve of saltines)
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 T. light corn syrup
1/2 lb. bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cacao but preferably 70%, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 6 minutes, until golden brown.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat or a lightly-buttered piece of parchment paper. Arrange the saltines on the baking sheet in a single layer, patching any holes with cracker bits (slight gaps are okay).
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter and corn syrup and cook over low heat until the sugar is melted. Insert a candy thermometer into the syrup and increase the heat to medium. Cook the syrup, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until a honey-colored caramel forms and the temperature reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Carefully and evenly pour the toffee over the crackers. Using an offset spatula and working quickly, spread the caramel to cover the crackers evenly. Let cool for 3 minutes, then sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly over the toffee. Let stand until the chocolate is mostly melted, then spread the chocolate over the toffee. Sprinkle the almonds over the chocolate. Freeze the toffee until set, about 20 minutes.
Invert the toffee onto a work surface and peel off the Silpat or parchment. Invert again, break into large shards and serve. The toffee can also be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 2 1/2 pounds of toffee.