Toffee is a traditional type of sweet, which history goes back to the beginning of 19 Century.
It’s made with sugar, water and butter and boiled to a high enough temperature to allow the sugar to caramelise. Toffee is either pulled for a softer version toffees or poured into a trays to be cut into a small pieces creating slightly harder version of the toffees.
What is toffee made of? Toffee ingredients
Water, sugar and butter are the main ingredients in the toffee, but you’ll also find different flavourings, such as lemon, orange, coffee or other flavours. Colouring is usually not used, as the sugar is left to caramelise – achieving light golden to light brown natural colour.
A lot of toffee recipes also include nuts – the caramelised flavour is the perfect flavour combination.
Bonfire toffee is also made with molasses, which is a type of very dark sugar syrup. This makes the toffee extra rich in flavour and darker in colour (almost black).
What does toffee taste like?
Toffee has very sweet and caramelised flavour, with primary flavours of sugar, caramel and butter. You can also detect a slightly nutty flavour (there are actually no nuts in the ingredients), or hint of vanilla or chocolate (again no chocolate is in the ingredients).
Toffee is usually hard and has chewy or slightly crunchy texture which is crisp when eaten at first but melts away in the mouth. Toffee is similar in taste to caramel and butterscotch.
The traditional English Toffee
Although in England, we don’t tend to refer to toffee as ‘English toffee’, in other countries (and especially in America) people do. This is to distinguish from American version of toffee, which is also referred to as ‘buttercrunch’ and the traditional English toffee.
Traditional English Toffee is made with white cane or beet sugar, brown sugar, molasses and butter and traditionally will not include nuts.
Traditional American Toffee
American version of the toffee is made with white cane sugar and corn syrup. The corn syrup is a kind of molasses in it’s structure, but it doesn’t have much flavour (just mild sugary taste), whereas molasses is dark and rich in colour and flavour. The American version of toffee is usually much lighter in colour and the recipes often use nuts and other inclusions.
How is toffee made?
All ingredients (apart from the flavouring) is first left to dissolve completely and then boiled to approximately 140-154C (depending on the recipe).
Afterwards, the mixture is left to cool down slightly and then pulled (for a softer chewier version of toffees) or poured into an oiled tray and then cut just before the hot mixture sets.
Depending on how high you take the temperature of the sugar mixture, you can achieve a different result – the lower the temperature is the softer the version of your toffee is going to be.
For example English bonfire toffee is very hard (it’s like a shards of glass), because it’s taken up to 150-154 C temperature.
The browning of the sugar – caramelisation is called the ‘maillard’ reaction.
When was toffee invented?
Whilst it’s very difficult to pin point exactly who invented toffee and when, we know that the first mention of the word toffee was in the 1825 in The Oxford English Dictionary.
What we do know, is that toffee history is very much linked to the sugar history and as the sugarcane become more available in Britain, the confectionery production become more affordable.
Which country invented toffee?
Toffee was first made in England (possibly in Wales first) and then brought to the rest of Europe as toffee becomed popular across the England and surrounding countries.
The origins of toffee name
It’s fansinating to find out that the word toffee could also come from word ‘tafia’ which was a type of rum from West India. Rum was being used to flavour toffee sweets at the time.
The name can also come from Creole language, where a syrup made from molasses and sugar is called toffee.
Another theory, which seems very plausible, mentions that ‘toffee’ originates in southern Britain where the local people would refer to something that’s hard to bite into or tough as in ‘toughy’ or ‘tuffy’.
What is the difference between taffy and toffee sweets
It looks like word ‘taffy’ was also used before ‘toffee’ although nowadays, ‘taffy’ is much softer version of pulled sweets originally made in America.
Both taffy and toffee are sweets made with sugar and butter, but they differ in their cooking process and texture.
Toffee as I’ve explained earlier is cooked at a higher temperature until the sugar caramelises and becomes hard, while taffy is cooked at much lower temperature to make sure it stays soft.
Toffee has a hard, crunchy texture that becomes chewy when it’s in the mouth, while taffy has a soft, chewy texture that is aerated by pulling or stretching the sweets.
Toffee’s main flavour is caramel with various complimenting flavours, such as vanilla, chocolate, or nuts. Since the sugar is caramelised when making toffee, it’s best to choose flavours that compliment the strong caramel flavour.
Taffy can be made any flavour you like, since we are not caramelising the sugar in the recipe. I really like zesty fresh flavours such as lemon, strawberry or blackcurrant, but peanut butter or chocolate is amazing flavour too.
Are toffee and caramel the same thing?
Although toffee and caramel might look very similar, they are in fact a different thing all together. The main difference is in texture – caramels are usually softer, ingredients – caramels are made with milk or cream, toffee on the other hand uses butter.
The reason why caramels are slightly softer is because they are boiled to a lower temperature than toffee. Caramels usually stop at the firm ball stage (about 248 F, 120-30 C) and toffee continues to the hard crack stage (about 300 F, 150 C).
READ MORE: Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe >>
This blog post was originally written on 13 May 2022 and last updated on 30 April 2023