Have you ever looked at a Twitter stream for more than a few seconds? Just this morning, I called up my Tweet Deck with all those columns of people I know and don’t know and was about to click on a story that interested me. By the time I hit the link, 10 new stories were flashing above it, and the piece I wanted to read was buried by more current, “relevant” news.
Life goes fast. News is fleeting. All those articles, all those links, all those photographs, all those blog posts coming at you like waves on a stormy day. One after another, and just when you catch your breath, there’s another, bigger one ready to take you and twist you around and. …
It’s depressing. It makes me feel as if I can never keep up, never really know what’s happening.
Buttercrunch a recipe that requires your full attention
All this has me thinking about tradition — what it is and why it’s important. The part of the holidays that always makes me feel warm and loved are the traditions my family has established — the ones I grew up with, the ones my husband’s family has taught me and, perhaps most important of all, the ones we established with our daughters when they were young.
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About 30 years ago, my sister-in-law brought us a batch of her family’s recipe for homemade buttercrunch. It’s a gloriously sweet concoction of caramel coated in chocolate and chopped nuts. My children would fight over it, and it was always devoured well before the actual holiday. We began eating it for dessert on the first night of Hanukkah.
Then one year it occurred to me to ask her for the recipe, and I started to make buttercrunch myself. The kitchen gets all warm and steamy with the cooking of the caramel — watching the butter and corn syrup cook down and bubble and transform from pale yellow to a gorgeous butterscotch color.
Then there is the part at the end, just before it reaches the desired 290 F temperature, when you can’t answer the phone or leave the room or check your email or Twitter feed. You have to stir and stir and stir because a few extra seconds causes the whole mixture to seize up and become a sugary glop.
Finally, there’s that wonderful moment when you spread the thickened candy on a cookie sheet and watch it begin to instantly harden.
Buttercrunch is a candy that requires patience and several steps, although none of them is too difficult. But you also need to slow down just enough to watch — to make sure that something sweet and good doesn’t go bad.
Cooking in my kitchen, making that candy year after year, focused on not letting it burn, feels like the exact opposite of watching a Twitter stream. The news is flashing by. There goes another photo, another blog post. And suddenly, I no longer care.
Start a tradition in your kitchen. Invite your children to help paint on the chocolate and press the chopped nuts into the chocolate. Make a double batch. You‘ll be glad you did.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: About 20 minutes for the buttercrunch and 5 minutes for the chocolate
Setting (cooling) time: About 30 to 45 minutes
Total time: About 1 1/2 hours
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings. (But once you taste it, it’s hard to stop.)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
2 large (about 7- or 8-ounce) chocolate bars (see note)
About 1 cup very finely chopped walnuts or your favorite nut (see note)
1. Line a cookie sheet with a piece of well-greased aluminum foil.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, corn syrup and water over low heat, stirring frequently. The mixture will caramelize and is ready when it hits 290 F on a candy thermometer. It will take at least 15 to 20 minutes to reach 290 F on low heat. Watch it carefully, particularly toward the end of the cooking process. The mixture can burn easily; reduce the heat to very low and stir constantly if it seems to be cooking too quickly or turning darker than pale golden brown.
3. When the candy hits 290 F, remove from the heat and carefully spread it out in an even layer on the sheet of greased foil. Spread with a spatula to make a fairly thin layer. Let cool and harden. (If you are really impatient, you can place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator or outside in the cold in a protected place so it will harden more quickly.)
4. While the buttercrunch is hardening, melt the chocolate in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth. If you choose to let the buttercrunch harden outside or in a very cold spot, you must bring it back to room temperature before spreading with the chocolate. If the buttercrunch is too cold, the chocolate won’t adhere properly.
5. When the buttercrunch is hard to the touch (you shouldn’t feel any soft spots) and is at room temperature, use a soft spatula and spread a thin layer of chocolate over the entire thing.
6. Sprinkle with half the nuts, pressing down lightly so they adhere. Again, if you are the impatient type, you can let the chocolate harden in a cold spot. The chocolate should be fully dry — no wet spots to the touch.
7. Carefully remove the foil from the cookie sheet; place the cookie sheet on top of the foil and candy. Gently flip the candy over onto the cookie sheet and peel away the foil.
8. Spread the remaining chocolate on top of the other side of the buttercrunch.
9. Sprinkle with the remaining nuts, pressing down lightly. Let the chocolate harden and set in a cool spot.
10. When the buttercrunch is dry and hard, break it into small pieces. You can keep it in a cool, dry tin or tightly sealed plastic bag for two or three weeks.
Note: Buttercrunch can be made successfully with regular grocery store milk chocolate or chocolate chips, but you can also splurge and use fabulous bittersweet or semisweet 60% cocoa chocolate. The choice is yours.
You can use walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios or any type of nut, but it must be finely chopped to adhere properly to the chocolate.
Main photo: Buttercrunch. Credit: Kathy Gunst