Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm going for the saltine

Saltines, at least for me, are one of life's simple pleasures. Fancy crackers have their place, certainly, but offer me a choice between a Carr's Table Water cracker, a glorious imported Arnott's Cheeseboard or a humble saltine, chances are I'm going for the saltine. I just love the light, crispy texture and the copious flaky salt -- even the low-sodium version packs enough zing to please my tongue's insatiable salt receptors. Plus, they're so old-fashioned and nostalgically charming. I can eat a whole sleeve without a second thought.

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.


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.


vegetablej said...

What a fantasticly quirky recipe. I can't eat the saltines because of a wheat allergy, but I love the idea. I'll be tuning in to see what other good stuff you are making as inspiration, as I'm making treats as gifts this year.

So far, down - some great-tasting gluten-free fruitcake adapted from my grandmother's recipe, and to go- Scottish shortbreads, chocolate truffles and ?


Dianne said...

Oooohhh....Scottish shortbreads! I LOVE shortbread.

I have some yummy sweets on tap for the rest of the month, and even a homemade treat for the canines. Can't forget about the pups!

Thanks for reading, and for your kind words. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

This was SO GOOD! And so easy to make! Thank you so much for posting it. Here's a picture of mine...

I over toasted my sliced almonds, but I had these still in my cupboard from Halloween, so I used slivered instead. I'm totally making this for my Christmas dinner!

Dianne said...

Oh, I'm so glad you made a batch! They look great...really delicious. Slivered almonds work just as well, in fact, I think any nut would be good. They are a great addition to Christmas dinner -- enjoy!

Thanks for reading and for posting your photo!

Annelle Williams said...

These were our absolute favorite holiday treats!! Thank you so much for posting such a GREAT, and EASY recipe!!
Can't wait to make them again--actually, I'm searching for a reason to make them again!

Dianne said...

Annelle, so glad you enjoyed the toffee! Thanks for your comment...and I have to say, just for the record, that you don't need a reason to make them again. Just do it! :)