{Chocolate Review}: Toffee Theory

October 27th, 2011 · 13 Comments · Candy, Chocolate, Field Guide to Candy, Recipes, Reviews, San Francisco, SF Events

toffee field guide candy
image from Field Guide to Candy

A few weeks back, I was invited to be a judge for TasteTV‘s Best Toffee in North America Competition. A whole boxful of toffees delivered to my door? Yes, please!

Those of you who are curious about the difference between toffee, English toffees, and buttercrunch, feel free to see my older post on buttercrunch. I became quite obsessed with untangling the various monikers of this candy while researching my candy book, if you couldn’t tell.

These days, most buttercrunch is marketed simply as “toffee”; I only saw one brand out of thirteen that was labelled “English toffee” (Which may perhaps provide some comfort to poor Brits trying to find their version of the candy abroad). For that reason, I will refer to all the candy I sampled for the competition as toffee, to avoid confusion. I will maintain, though, my abiding love for the word “buttercrunch”. If I ever make and sell my own version, I’ll call it buttercrunch, and probably confuse the heck out of everyone.

So how does one determine the best toffee?


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A Little Candy Corn for Your Halloween Bowl

October 30th, 2009 · 9 Comments · Candy, Field Guide to Candy, Recipes


Hi all! In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d share this candy corn recipe from my cookbook. I also got to speak with the Saucy Sisters from Nashville about this Halloween staple; here’s the podcast if you want to take a listen!

These little triangular-shaped candies, colored in bands of yellow, orange, and white, mimic a ripe kernel of corn; it’s easy to see where candy corn get their name. Candy corn is associated with Halloween in North America and makes its appearance in large quantities as the holiday approaches. Candy corn also appears in other color combinations, including Indian corn, which is brown, orange, and white; reindeer corn, which is red, green, and white; cupid corn, which is red, pink, and white; and bunny corn, which comes in pastel colors. I never realized before I started researching candy corn how many variations existed! I guess it’s so that candy corn addicts can get their fix year round!

Candy corn was invented in the 1880s by George Renninger of the now defunct Wunderlee Candy Company. It used to be made by hand out of sugar syrup, fondant, and marshmallows. The process was so labor-intensive that the candy was made only from March through November. The manufacturing of commercial candy corn was taken over in 1900 by the Goelitz Candy Company, today known as the Jelly Belly Candy Company. With the creation of machines to automate the process, candy corn no longer needs to be made one kernel at a time.

One thing learned when making the dough is not to overcook it or the dough will become hard and crumbly when it cools and it will be hard to form. Don’t turn the heat up too high when you are cooking the sugar mixture. Let the dough cool enough so you can form the ropes, but also don’t let it completely cool and harden. When you are forming the ropes of dough into one piece, lightly running a rolling pin over the top will help press them together. After you cut the candy into pieces, you can reshape them by hand to achieve a rounder shape.

Happy Halloween, and hope you find some delicious candy in your trick or treat bags!


Candy Corn

adapted from Field Guide to Candy


2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup dry powdered milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Few drops food coloring


1. Combine confectioners’ sugar, powdered milk, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat,stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

4. Add the dry milk mixture to the saucepan, and mix until fully combined. Let mixture rest for a few minutes until cool enough to handle.

5. Divide dough into 3 equal parts and place each portion in a bowl. Add coloring to each part as desired and stir to distribute evenly; if you want to keep it white, don’t add any coloring.

6. Knead each portion of dough in each bowl until the coloring is evenly distributed and the dough is smooth and stiff.

7. Roll each portion into a rope about ½-inch in diameter.

8. Place the three ropes of dough next to each other to form a long rectangle. Use a rolling pin to gently roll over the ropes and press them together.

9. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into triangles and place on a baking sheet. Let set for about an hour before serving. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 months.

Yield: About 80 pieces

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Field Guide to Candy is Out! Win a Copy of Your Own!

October 5th, 2009 · 176 Comments · Field Guide to Candy, My Books


Two years ago, one of my long-cherished goals suddenly blossomed into reality: I was offered the chance to write a cookbook. A great deal of testing, retesting, writing, and rewriting later Field Guide to Cookies emerged.

One year ago, just as the reality that I was now published was sinking in and the sight of my book in bookstores was becoming less surreal, fate came tripping round again: I was asked if I’d like to do a companion piece to my book, on candy.

Today, I’m happy to announce that my second book, Field Guide to Candy, is officially out in bookstores and available online!


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I’m Still Here…Really!

February 1st, 2009 · 21 Comments · Field Guide to Candy, Field Guide to Cookies, Personal


Many of you may be wondering just where I’ve gone off to…didn’t I say I had returned from vacation and was promising all sorts of lovely travelogues and pretty pictures and even a recipe or two?

Well, readers, you’ve been marvelously patient and supportive, and now it’s time for me to come clean: I’m currently neck-deep (perhaps a tad higher) in the end stages of my second book, and it has taken over my life.

Oh, by the way, have I told you what the second book is about?

Well, a few months after Field Guide to Cookies came out, I received a call from my editor, who wanted to know if I might be interested in doing a companion book, on the topic of…candy.

I was very excited and flattered, to say the least, and perhaps slightly apprehensive about how much candymaking would take over my life in the next few months.

Suffice to say that at this point I am pretty thinking about candy ALL THE TIME. When I am not tweaking recipes in the kitchen, getting everything covered in caramel and chocolate, I am writing on the computer or thinking of more candies. I have visited just about every candy store in San Francisco. My boyfriend does not blink now when I say for the 3rd time in a week, “We need to go get more sugar.” I think I’ve even dreamed about candy (which, actually, for a dessert lover like me, should be like the gold ring of dreams.)

It’s been a fun and amazing and intense experience, and now as I’m approaching the photoshoot for the book, the intensity is pushing past 11 on the meter. In a few weeks, there will hopefully be lovely shots of candies to entice and beguile the candy-curious. Until then, I’ll be in the kitchen, whipping up sweets Willy-Wonka style.

I miss blogging, I really do. I miss being able to jump in the kitchen when an idea strikes, experimenting with possible new desserts. I miss taking photographs, playing around to find the right angles and colors and light. Most of all, I miss the community out there – I’m still visiting the blogs, although lack of time to comment has turned me more into a lurker. But trust, I’m still seeing what’s going on out there in the wonderful wide blogosphere, and I’m loving it still even as my participation has dwindled.

As soon as the candy photoshoot is over in a couple of weeks, I’m eager to get back in the blogging saddle, so to speak, and resume a more regular pattern of blogging. Thanks to all of you in the meantime for your continued support – I have a long backlog of things I’d love to put up on Dessert First, and I hope you’ll be around when I do!

And just so this post isn’t totally dessert-free, Sunset Magazine interviewed me for my recommendations on best desserts around the Bay Area. The February issue is out on newsstands now, or you can go the site for the article. Enjoy!

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