Gifting from your kitchen: A toffee tutorial

Story highlights

  • Homemade treats are easy to make and sure to please
  • Put English toffee in decorative tins or plastic bags for a sweet gift
  • Candy-making may seem difficult, but these instructions will turn you into a pro
There's something addictive about that moment when you hand someone a homemade treat and that person's face lights up as if you've just given him or her a hug. It turns baking into therapy, food into an olive branch and those you share it with into a family.
I've experienced that joy for many years, by virtue of being the delivery girl every winter. I may have switched from wearing hair bows and Christmas dresses to newsboy caps and tall boots, but that feeling stays the same, and I always come bearing gifts.
Ever since I can remember, December is when my mother takes to the kitchen like a magician and begins to turn out hand-crafted happiness. The aroma of sweet cakes baking in the oven or candy bubbling hot in a pot on the stove greets me at the end of each day. The sugary sensation alone is enough to make you swoon, especially on a bitterly cold day.
Take one bite of pound cake, English toffee, pralines, baklava or sugared pecans and you know that this didn't come from the store. Yet again, my mom has a way of making you feel as though she has baked all of the love in her heart into each treat. When you taste it, you know she made it with you in mind.
Opening a wax paper-lined decorative tin and popping a piece of chocolate- and pecan-coated crunchy toffee into your mouth is bliss. I know this for myself, but I've heard it from others. Over the years, the gifts have gone out to countless friends, family members, teachers, co-workers, customers and colleagues. My dad and I are the proud delivery folks for my mother's creations, soaking up the good karma vibes wherever our dispensing takes us.
Every reaction just makes my day, and I collect the compliments to take home and share with my mom. It's witnessing the excited expressions on my friends' faces as they recognize the telltale shopping bags bulging with tins. Other times, it's handing out that extra tin I always carry "just in case" when I see someone, perhaps an acquaintance, who seems down or unhappy, and watching that person's face transform into a beaming smile.
One year on "delivery day," an ice storm hit our North Georgia town and knocked out the power at my high school. Mr. Friedman, my English teacher (and oracle), was without a lunch, but he feasted on the treats all day. Although he had a little bit of a sugar buzz, I'll never forget the utter contentment on his face as he sat munching toffee and pound cake in between and during classes, a Bob Dylan-esque cap sitting jauntily on his head. It is, somehow, a perfect memory.
My mother has been making people feel this way for at least 25 years. And luckily, she has taught me the same recipes, so I can spread a similar joy.
The woman has mastered pralines and sugared pecans, finicky candies that can so easily set up like cement without an intrepid hand to control the process. And a few years ago, she decided to take on a new challenge: English toffee.
Now when I say challenge, I mean this in relation to a woman who is fearless in the kitchen. At 6 years old, she was standing on a kitchen chair over the stove and trying to make candy with half of the things she needed. If she had three of the required ingredients, she was "going for it." No amount of failure deterred her, and to this day, I've never seen anyone so tenacious.
These days, my mom churns out batches of her own recipe for English toffee without a second thought. So when I tell you not to fear making toffee, or any candy, it comes with the reassurance and tips provided by "the magician." Don't let the list of instructions intimidate you -- it's to be sure you've got all you need to know! Make it one time and you'll feel like a pro, and an excellent gift-giver.
Screw your courage to the sticking place and take up the challenge to defy expectations of sub-par gifts or gift cards with delightful homemade treats.
English Toffee
(Makes almost 3