We all have our pet hates, don’t we?
Amongst mine are discourteous drivers and old ladies in supermarkets with a complete disregard for other shoppers. Yes, you know the ones I mean, they stare for ten minutes at a shelf filled with identical products and then shake their head and move on without even lifting a bloody tin! And all the while they have carefully parked their trolley diagonally across the aisle so that no-one can pass easily.
But currently, right at the top of my most hated, are those bloody cooks and writers who declare that something is incredibly easy and should take virtually no time at all!
Well, my friends, if the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, could you please add some slippery stuff to make sure that these guys slide down there as quickly as possible – rather like my toffee when I tried to rescue it!
But I am getting ahead of myself. It all started with a whim. “What a good idea to make some bonfire toffee,” I thought to myself. “Besides which, as it is almost my daughter’s birthday (she is a Halloween Witch) it was appropriately seasonal.
For the non Brits amongst you, here in Britain we celebrate burning a Catholic who tried, but failed, to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was arguably the last man to enter parliament with honest intentions, but his failure is now a grand excuse to build a bonfire and let off fireworks. Bonfire night is November the 5th and is much more fun than Halloween when kids go around extorting money and sweets from neighbours and old people.
Amongst the old fashioned ways of Bonfire night, there was always a tray or two of dark sticky toffee. This tasted delicious and kept dentists in business for months as the toffee stuck to fillings and anything else it came into contact with.
And so, with a dollop of nostalgia I sought out recipes on how to make the stuff. Which is where I was drawn into the hell that is toffee making. All of the recipes included a thing called cream of tartar, and so I headed off to the local supermarket to find it, along with soft brown sugar, unsalted butter and tins of black treacle and golden syrup.
You can see from this that probably one of the reasons we all loved this as kids was the massive sugar rush it gave us all. But hey, back in the day, we hadn’t even heard of such a thing!
I measured and weighed and got everything into a solid pan and waited for all the different signs that the cookbooks mentioned. Bubbling, changing of colour etc etc. And finally I spotted that the best thing if you didn’t have a jam thermometer to measure the temperature, was some iced water into which you dropped blobs of the toffee until they finally were easily moulded into little balls.
This is called the “soft crack” stage or something like that and is the essential bit of toffee making. Eventually I reached this stage and poured out the toffee mixture into two carefully lined tins. So far, so good. At least that was until it had cooled right down but was still not setting hard. This was because the toffeee had not actually made it to the temperature needed.
Another trip the next day had me buying a thermometer. Clearly I had not managed to gauge the temperature properly according to all the on line sources I had checked.
I threw the toffee back into the pan and waited until it melted and started to bubble. Then I checked the temperature and realised I was going to have to wait. And wait. And wait, and wait even more. Hell’s bells, it was a good forty minutes until I reached the magic temperature and this was clearly why you didn’t see trays of bonfire toffee these days!
Eventually I was able to pour out the dark toffee mixture and, lo and behold, it did indeed set hard relatively quickly. I had cracked it. I was a latter day Toffee Maker.
I then discovered that actually breaking the toffee up into pieces was a little trickier than I had first thought. Eventually a selection of rolling pins hammers and mallets, along with yards of cling film to stop splinters landing everywhere; enabled me to get a nice selection of toffee bits and shards and lumps.
I crammed some into a handy glass container and informed Da Boss that it was safe to visit the kitchen once more. All was well with the world, and indeed remained so until Da Boss asked me if I had been snaffling some of the toffee.
I soon found out why. The glass jar, which had been full to the brim was now less than half full. The bloody toffee had melted slightly and formed a single block which was now welded to the blasted jar.
Fortunately I used my wits and the microwave. Thirty seconds started to loosen the toffee from the jar, just not quite enough. However the next 30 seconds was just right. Well, it was if you wanted a pool of molten toffee in a scorchingly hot jar.
I will not describe the terrible language when I discovered quite how hot the jar had become, nor will I mention the carnage in the kitchen. Let’s just say that the sweetie jar is now heading for recycling and the burns from the hot sticky toffee should soon heal.
Eventually I did manage to work my way out of the nightmare and the toffee is ready to be delivered as a birthday present.
Now you know why those smug cooking experts are top of my “Most Hated” list. They managed to lure me in with promises of an easy ride. They failed to mention any of the pitfalls and they certainly never got round to the hazards and pain of toffee burns. I will now spend hours trying to think up a suitable version of Hell for them!