English toffee tradition

When I was younger, my holidays were spent baking and decorating hundreds of cookies and candies to give as gifts. Over the last few years I’ve whittled the list down to my favorites: roll-out butter cookies, molasses ginger snaps, Russian tea cakes and English toffee.

Of those, English toffee is perhaps the easiest to make and gets the most raves, by far. Really, this English toffee is so good that it should be a controlled substance, something that requires a triplicate prescription. And with just four ingredients, butter, brown sugar, chocolate and nuts, a recipe is almost unnecessary.


A couple of things. First, you’ll need a candy thermometer. Second, learn from my mistake. Do not use a flimsy plastic spatula, or the molten candy liquid will melt the plastic.

Last, feel free to multiply this recipe. For example, I’ve actually quadrupled the recipe with great success.

It ships well. It packages beautifully in little containers, like my favorite little Chinese take-out cartons, tied up with raffia. At that point, it’s irresistible.

Once you make the toffee, hurry up and put it in sealed containers and get it out of the house. The sooner you give it away the less inclined you’ll be to eat it.

Gift boxes

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Doni’s English Toffee

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or milk chocolate or even white chocolate)
1 cup chopped nuts

In a large pot, stirring continuously, cook butter and brown sugar over medium until candy thermometer reaches 290 degrees.

Remove from heat and spread onto a heavy, buttered cookie sheet (Or a slab of cold marble).

Sprinkle chocolate pieces on top of the hot toffee. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes, to allow chocolate to melt.

Spread melted chocolate over the toffee. Sprinkle nuts on top. Let sit in a cool place to harden.

Use a heavy knife to cut into pieces. Makes about 1 pound.


Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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25 Responses

  1. Avatar Debbie says:

    Where do you get the take out containers?



  2. Avatar Joan Macrusky says:

    I'm pretty sure I've seen them at Costco.

  3. Avatar Vicki A says:

    Michaels has really cute Christmas take out containers for a dollar.

  4. Doni Greenberg Doni Greenberg says:

    I bought the Chinese take-out containers at Cash & Carry on Hartnell Avenue in Redding. I've had them for a while, but if memory serves, they cost about $7 for a whole stack of them. That's also where I bought some flatter, wider white take-home boxes, for about the same price. They make very classy little gift boxes. (I also use both sizes of the containers to let guests take home food after dinner.) –

  5. Avatar Darcie says:

    I love the creative way Doni presents gifts; it makes them extra special. However, her English Toffee could be presented on an old newspaper page and it would still be to die for!

  6. Avatar GrammaLyn says:

    Darcie — That's funny about the toffee being wrapped in an old newspaper page. However, who on earth has newspaper now that Doni is gone??

  7. Avatar LeAnna says:

    Oh wow, toffee! I have been wanting a good recipe. Thank you!

  8. Avatar Cheryl says:

    My kind of recipe, easy to make, easy to give, great tips for pkging, I am inspired, thank you Doni.

  9. Avatar sue says:

    I'm gonna do this tomorrow!

    Thanks, Doni.

  10. Avatar Carolyn A says:

    I want you to know Doni, I made 2 kinds of candy day before yesterday, intending to make 4 different kinds. Well, let me tell you, after making pralines and caramel, I decided 2 was enough, but here you come along with this good, easy recipe, so I don't see that I have a choice. OK, I will make English Toffee today, and if I make it through the day, I will also make Peanut Brittle. The idea was to give it away, the reality is I'm not telling anyone [other than you guys, and you don't know where I live], especially my kids, because they will expect to have at least 1 piece and there won't be 1 piece left. My Husband and I have instantly become addicts.


    I really wish I could use spell check here, because apparently, I don't know how to spell.

  11. Avatar Carolyn A says:

    Well, that was easy. And really good. Thank you Doni.

    One word of warning, don't scrape the bottom of the pan to get the last bit out, I did, and that part was bitter. [Ate it any way] Not going to make peanut brittle, I've OD on sugar.

  12. Avatar Judy Darting says:

    Carolyn A,

    Google has a toolbar that has spell checking. I use it for this and other forums and blogs. Just put "Google Toolbar" in a search engine and you will get to the download page. There are lots of other helpful items on the toolbar. It is free.

  13. Avatar Rama says:

    I love cooking shows. I watch cooking shows and I prepare recipes from cooking shows….but cooking with a profes- sional guiding you is soooo much better. Today my friend Gail and myself took advantage of Doni's challah bread and toffee making class at her home. The gourmet lunch she fed us on the veranda with the forever view was worth the money. Lovely soup, fresh green salad with fresh orange and pecans, homemade rolls, chocolate and coconut tarts with thick whipped cream. We sampled her homemade eggnog (oooooooh) and just so we wouldn't go hungry she had prepared other gourmet treats for us to snack on. She led us all through what seemed to be complicated – (that she made uncomplicated) maze of the bread preparation and the end result; well, it was short of fabulous; o.k. it WAS fabulous. The toffee we made; addicting. Absolutely stunning home that her husband Bruce (a master craftsman by trade I believe) built along with her sons. I highly recommend that anyone and everyone should take a cooking class from Doni. This is an opportunity that should be taken advantage of. Redding I guarantee has nothing like this. If you lived in Napa, you'd pay double (and that's just for the lunch and goodies). Give a class as a gift, or give it to yourself as a gift. Once you've taken one, I assure you it will be addictive; just like the toffee. Oh, one more thing; you get to meet new people that are having as much fun as you.

  14. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:


    How far ahead can I make the toffee and put it into the boxes? I want to give this to family at Chistmas. I assume while in the boxes, it should be kept in a cool room?

    Karen, because this toffee is a hard candy, covered with chocolate and nuts, it stays fresh a long time; longer than cookies. When I package the toffee in boxes, I first put it in plastic bags and fasten them tightly closed with those twistie ties. Then I put it in the box. This toffee ships well, too.


  15. Avatar Rachael C. says:

    Awesome ideas on the take out gift boxes. Nice to know they are available in Redding. I betcha it'd be really easy to stamp them or embellish them and really make them wowza!!!

  16. Avatar Becky R. says:

    I couldn't believe how fast and easy this recipe was to make. I made it with three little kids at my feet without a hiccup. I also couldn't believe how easy it was to make it look pretty (my downfall for sure!) I did the chocolate layer and then drizzled white chocolate across the top before sprinkling my chopped pecans. YUMMY! It has my family's stamp of approval.

    BTW, Doni, I really wanted to be part of the Gingerbread house class but couldn't work it out. My kids would have loved it! What a fun idea. I'll stay tuned for the next one.

  17. Avatar Michelle says:

    Ooooh, I think I might just make that! Looks delish!!!

  18. Avatar Michelle says:

    Am I the only one who had a hard time making this? I made the first batch, and burned the toffee. But I didn't realize it until I took the first bite. Ick. I had cooked it over the medium heat just like it said and never stopped stirring it.

    Then I made a second batch, cooked it under a slightly lower heat, but after 20-something minutes, the silly thing didn't get to 290 degrees. So I gave up and poured it into my pan. Since I didn't get it hot enough, it turned out pretty chewy instead of crunchy. It wasn't bad, but it's hard to eat that way.

    Doni, please help! What am I doing wrong? Am I destined to be like my mom, who likes to joke that she could burn water?? *silent tears*

  19. Avatar Kelly Brewer says:

    Michelle, I don't know what we did wrong, but the same thing happened to my first batch. I think I didn't stir it constantly enough, and it got a couple of degrees too hot. When I poured it out onto the cold marble slab, the butter separated from the rest, as well. Mess!

    Second time, I stirred that sugar-butter like I'd explode if I stopped for even a second. It hung together and cooked properly. I kept an eagle eye on the thermometer that time.

    The batch came out right, and looked like Doni's pictures of toffee. I say try, try again until it works. Good luck!

  20. Avatar Michelle says:

    Thanks, Kelly. 🙂

    I will try it again soon. It was so frustrating to get it wrong twice!!! I l know my baking/cooking skills are severely limited, but I figured there was no way I could mess up this recipe, especially since it sounded so simple. LOL!

    I spoke to my sister-in-law about this the other day (she LOVES to cook) and she said the butter separated on her when she tried making toffee, as well. She said she ended up draining the separated butter off and the toffee turned out OK. She joked it was low-fat!

  21. Doni Greenberg Doni Greenberg says:

    Hey you guys, regarding the toffee questions:

    1. Do not use a Teflon-coated or Teflon-like pan. I don't know why, but the few times I've tried a coated pan, the toffee just never works.

    So use your heaviest, deepest pan, something with a handle so you have something to hang onto while you stir.

    2. I've also had the butter separate from the sugar, and I never knew what caused it (big help, I know), but my hunch is that you want to melt the butter in the sugar all at once. This works great since you're basically dumping everything in the pot, the cubes of butter and the sugar, and heating it up.

    3. Crank up the heat to medium, or even medium high, and stir the whole time, being careful not to splatter.

    4. I may have mentioned this before, but it's crucial to have everything set out and waiting for you, because molten toffee will not wait for you to scrounge around for nuts and chips and something to butter the pans.

    (What I do, and I did with my class, is just have big bowls or measuring cups filled with different nuts and different kinds of chocolate. As Becky R. said, white chocolate works great, too. In fact, it's one of my favorites.)

    5. Regarding it burning, yes, it's a very short trip, very frustrating trip between done toffee and burned-beyond salvation toffee. That's why taking its temperature is so important.

    But I feel your pain, since butter is so expensive now, and so is sugar, that it's really a waste when, after the time and the money invested, the recipe is ruined.

    (But if you make this long enough, you can tell by the smell when it's about ready.) If you don't make it to 290 degrees, it's not the end of the world. In fact, some people like that softer, more grainy toffee. It's more like penuche that way, which is pretty good, too.

    6. Last, though I've been making this toffee all my life, I still screw it up sometimes, as I did recently when, in my haste, I stuck a tray of toffee in the fridge to speed up its cooling. The chocolate pulled away from the toffee in sheets. I ended up chopping it all up for ice cream topping. Still good, just not what I had in mind. Oh well. (When you put the chocolate on, and it melts, and then the nuts, it doesn't hurt to use the heel of your hand or a wooden spoon to press it into the toffee, for good measure.

    Good luck. Once you get this toffee recipe down, I'm betting you'll be doing this one for life. (I could totally see Becky in her kitchen with her little girls nearby. Great memories for the holidays.)

  22. Avatar Kelly Brewer says:

    Thanks, Doni. Looking forward to having another go at it soon.

  23. Avatar Michelle says:

    Thanks from me too, Doni. 🙂

    I will try it again. Maybe this weekend since my parents will be here and they might like it.

  24. Avatar Carolyn A. says:

    Judy, a week ago you suggested I go to the Google tool bar and get spell check from there. I wrote a thank you and I must have done something wrong, because it didn't show up. It has bothered me ever since! So, I finally found the site again, and I am thanking you now! Whew, that's a load off.

    After reading the other postings on burning the toffee, mine burnt also, just a little[we ate it any way] but I know I cooked mine too long, I'm thinking the candy thermometer is not working as it should, next time I will use the cold water method, when placing a small amount of candy in a cup of cold water it will separate into hard, not brittle threads[check with your fingers] that is 270 to 290 degrees. You can check your thermometer by placing it in water, allowing it to boil, then it should read 212 degrees.

  25. Avatar karen furniss says:

    I have made candy on the stove for many years. Thought I would try this new recipe-seemed so easy and yummy! I must say, however, mine burned just so slightly. It burned enough that I did toss the whole slab of candy away. A little bit of "burned" turns into a bitterness that is yucky and spoils the whole batch. I even kept my nose near the cooking sugar and butter. Sometimes a candy thermometer can't be trusted. My thermometer just reached 290 when I pulled the pan off the heat. I already had a feeling it was ruined by the smell: a little acrid and sharp, but the color looked good.

    I was too tired to try another batch since I had been in the kitchen all day making/ baking/cooking other things!

    My favorite candy, that I have had great success with, is very similar to this recipe, but uses white sugar instead of brown, and a few extra steps. The recipe is Almond Butter Crunch from my old recipe book of Better Home and Gardens. I just googled it, but the "new" recipe is not the same as in my old cookbook. If anyone is interested, I can provide the "old" recipe.

    I think using brown sugar is harder than using white when cooking candy on the stove for this type of candy, BUT I am not proclaiming to be an expert!

    Doni, I am certainly enjoying your new site! Glad things are going in the right direction for you!

    God Bless, and happy new year!

    Karen, I'm so sorry your candy burned. I hate when that happens. Butter and sugar are expensive, and your time has value, too. If the candy reaches temperatures higher than 290, it will burn for sure. I wish you future candy-making success. In the meantime, thanks for reading. Doni