Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Crack


I know there are probably lot of you out there who either need a really simple last minute gift, or who with the terrible economy want to make INEXPENSIVE gifts this year. This is one of the easiest, cheapest, and yet most impressive gourmet-ish gifts I've ever found. The friend who gave me the recipe called it Christmas Crack because it is addictive, it contains crackers, and you 'crack' it apart, but I've found this doesn't tell people much about it, so call it whatever you wish. It's basically chocolate covered toffee pieces, and it's made with things that are probably already in your kitchen.

1 sleeve saltine crackers
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter (salted)
1 11.5 oz. package chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a 10" x 15" cookie sheet with foil (the kind of sheet that has raised edges!). Spray with Pam, or grease VERY lightly with butter OR line pan with tin foil and spray or grease the tin foil. Cover the cookie sheet with a single layer of saltines. Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes stirring with a whisk.

*ALSO! If you have a candy thermometer, you can just continue to boil the caramel right in the pot up to 300 degrees and then pour it over the crackers. If you do it this way, you won't have to put it in the oven and will have greater control over the temperature of the sugar mixture and thus it's crackability!

Pour over the saltines, and try to spread it as evenly as possible. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes (Zen moment…watching through the oven door, watch the boiling mixture bubble up through the holes in the crackers). When you remove it, the caramel mixture will be molten and boiling; allow to cool about 3 min, or until you can see the crackers distinctly, which will have shifted while baking. Push them back into order with a fork or knife.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the toffee and let sit for about 5 minutes to melt. Once melted spread chocolate evenly. If desired, sprinkle on pecans (or nut of your choice. Peanuts, almonds, walnuts etc.) and press lightly into the chocolate.

* Let cool a bit and then transfer to fridge to harden.**
*Note #1 - I tend to sprinkle some big salt crystals on top, to oomph up the saltiness...
**Note#2 - Sometimes if it's really cold outside, I just put it on the table on my front porch for 20 minutes!

**Note#3 – If you substitute Graham crackers and almonds, you have Faux Almond Roca Candy!

**Note#4 – Pretzel sticks also make a great substitute for the crackers!

**Note#5 – Caramel chips are great sprinkled on top of the chocolate.

**Note#6 - "S'more" version. Instead of saltines, I used graham crackers and as a topping I used marshmallows shaped like snowmen. It tastes great but it’s a bit sticky.

Once hard, break the candy into small pieces and place in air tight containers. Store in the fridge until ready to enjoy.
I warn you, this is addictive to MAKE and to EAT, but go easy on it, as it is literally butter + sugar. I give it as gifts in tins to people I'm attempting to impress (in-laws, boss, etc.), and in gladware to everyone else who has already been impressed and is now just awaiting their yearly fix.

The Question of Crackers
Saltines (or soda crackers to our friends overseas), are the standard option, but this can be made with other things too. Some favorites are matzoh, club crackers, rice crackers (gluten free!) or graham crackers

Nuts and Alternate Toppings
This is also wonderful topped with almonds or walnuts! Or you can skip the nuts and top them with festive colored sprinkles! And be sure to try orange sprinkles at Halloween. Other topping options include crushed candy canes or marshmallows.
The Question of Butter
People have asked if margarine or vegan butter substitutes can work for this. I do not believe they will work the same way because the water to fat ratio in margarine is different than in butter. Besides, margarine is full of lots of not-so-good-for-you stuff. Don't believe me? Then check out noted food-scientist Alton Brown's thoughts on the subject in A Case for Butter. (Transcript can be found here: The Case for Butter) Be sure to check out the internet & your grocery store flyer for coupons for the butter. You'll find lots of them this time of year. And if you do find a good deal on it, stock up! Butter can be frozen until you're ready to use it! And finally, for those who have been taught to fear butter, remember, it is a "sometimes-food". Use the real thing, and enjoy it as a treat, not as its own food group.
*Oh, and don't try "whipped" butter, which has lots of air incorporated into it. The recipe calls for butter in stick form.
Toffee Troubleshooting
Over the years I've had a few people say that their batch of Crack came out soft & chewy instead of crunchy. I've never really had that problem happen, but just in case, here are a few notes others have posted in the thread since I originally put up the recipe.
The Question of Stirring
You must stir continuously while making toffee. This helps the candy to heat more evenly and also reduces the chance of the butter separating or sugar crystals forming. Stirring doesn't need to be vigorous stirring, just slow and steady should do.
Gritty Toffee?
Toffee gets gritty because the sugar has crystallized. Crystallization usually happens because you either let the temperature get too hot, or sugar crystals formed on the sides of the pan while you were cooking and then spread through the candy mixture like a chain reaction. While stirring your toffee mixture, stir steady and gently, trying not to splash the mixture up the sides of the pan. If some does get up there (it usually happens), just take a pastry brush and dip it in hot water, washing the sugar back down into the rest of the mixture.
If Your Butter is Separating Out
If your butter and sugar are separating, there could be a few reasons. Some of them are listed below:
-You didn't stir enough. Most toffee recipes call for constant stirring. If you don't keep the mixture moving, it can get too hot and the butter tends to separate.
-You stirred too quickly. (Not necessarily too much, just too fast.)
-Too hot and humid in the kitchen. If it's a hot and humid day, it's really not a good time for candy making.
-Rapid temperature changes. Start out melting your butter and sugar at a low/medium temperature. Don't raise the temperature abruptly. Using a heavy saucepan is safer because it conducts the heat better and more evenly than thin pan.
-Use salted butter, rather than unsalted. If you use unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp. of salt to help stabilize the mixture.
-If your butter starts to separate while cooking, remove it from the heat and stir it continually until it blends back together again. Don't stir too fast. You may splash yourself with hot butter, and it can also cause more separation. Gradually return to heat, stirring constantly.
-Make sure you put the butter in the pan before the sugar, and allow it melt a little, that way you will have a coating of butter on the bottom of the pan (the other way around the sugar can caramelize and not in a good way, before the butter gets in) melt them together gently at first, then raise the temp so it bubbles, 3 mins is fine, once the two have melted together, it will have lightened in color a bit when it is done.
- have the crackers ready to go, pour on the caramel and 5 mins in the oven (make sure you have had you oven pre-heated up to temperature), watch your oven, it could run a lot hotter than the temp on the dial...mine does, so I tend to watch it and pull it out when the caramel starts to darken...then toss on the choc chips and allow them a few minutes to melt, spread with a silicone spatula if you have one...watch your fingers that you do not burn them! (the caramel is hot!)

There are alternate versions of the recipe that call for 1 cup butter, 1 cup packed DARK brown sugar, 1 sleeve of saltines, 1 11 oz. bag chocolate chips & 1/2 cup chopped pecans. In small saucepan, place butter and brown sugar, heat to boil 4 minutes. Spread evenly over crackers. Bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.