How to make toffee

Toffee is a tasty treat that’s been enjoyed by generations of sweet tooths.  It’s also one of those things that sounds deceptively easy to make for yourself, but can be just as easy to mess up.

While there are dozens upon dozens of variations on the basic toffee recipe, today we’ll take you through a general method for making toffee at home, which you can tweak, adapt and experiment with until you can find what works best for you.

Toffee ingredients


Don’t mix the two up

This is the key ingredient of not only toffee, but almost any other candy you could name.

White or brown sugar, caster or icing sugar, it doesn’t really matter in the end – each one offers a slightly different flavour and texture when it comes to the final result.  Some versions combine all of the above – you may want to experiment a bit.


The wet stuff.  You’ll need less of it than you will sugar – exact mounts vary by recipe, but generally about one cup of water to every three cups of sugar should be about right.

Of course, some toffee recipes dispense with water entirely, replacing it instead with…


Butter is handy for adding both additional flavour and a smooth consistency to toffee, so you may want to throw a little in even if you’re using water.

While it may not be the healthiest option, a butter containing salt can help to stabilise the toffee mixture and prevent the ingredients from separating.

White vinegar

“Hang on,” I hear you say, “Vinegar?  Isn’t toffee meant to be sweet?”

Keep calm and remember that cooking is kind of science, full of complex chemical reactions, and that sometimes the ingredients you don’t expect will be the ones that turn out to be the most useful.

Vinegar helps prevent crystallisation in your toffee.  Crystallisation is a bad thing, as it gives the toffee a grainy consistency instead of a smooth one.  Vinegar retards the growth of sugar crystals, ensuring the toffee remains smooth.

You don’t need a lot of vinegar to ensure a smooth consistency in your toffee – maybe just a spoonful or two – so its flavour should not greatly affected.  But if you’re really against adding vinegar to your toffee, you can substitute golden syrup instead – much like “seeding” chocolate, this should catalyse a chemical reaction and cause the toffee around the syrup to take on a similarly smooth texture.

Vanilla extract

To be sure, this is optional, but a touch of vanilla can be good for adding some extra flavour to your toffee.

Toffee toppings

While toffee can be enjoyed on its own, many recipes recommend topping it with a layer of chocolate and/or some sprinkles, nuts, or other tasty treats.  You can also try laying down a biscuit base first before making your toffee, for an even more elaborate creation.

Food colouring

Did you ever eat blue, green or red toffee as a kid?  I’m sorry to say that there isn’t a special blue sugar to use to make this – it’s just regular toffee with the addition of food colouring.

Toffee Recipe

Remember, this is a general guideline only – your Nan may have made toffee differently, but so did someone else’s Nan, so the trick is to find the common ground between the different recipes.

Combine your sugar with the water and/or melted butter, plus any other liquid ingredients, and stir on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the mixture to the boil, but SLOWLY.  Good toffee takes TIME to make, and rushing the process at a high heat is liable to either burn the mixture or cause the ingredients to separate.

Try not to stir the mixture too much – this can cause separation and/or crystallisation.  Use a damp brush to wipe down the inner walls of the saucepan, to ensure no sugar crystals are left over above the water line – the heat will cause these to burn, and when they get into the mixture, crystals will start to form.

Make sure you don’t touch the mixture, as it’s VERY hot and sticky – I’ve learned the hard way that toffee can stick to your hand and burn you like some kind of sugary napalm.

Wait until your toffee mixture has turned the colour you want – lighter brown for a softer, chewier toffee, and darker brown for a harder, more brittle toffee with a stronger flavour.

You’ll can tell when the toffee is ready to take off the heat by spooning out a small amount of the liquid, and placing it into cool water – if the mixture immediately hardens and cracks, you’re set.

At this point, take the toffee off the heat to keep it from burning.  You may want to put the whole saucepan into a large bowl of cool water to immediately stop the cooking process and prevent the residual heat from cooking the mixture further.

Before the mixture has a chance to completely cool and harden, pour it out into whatever you plan to serve it, such as patty cake pans or a tray.  Make sure that the tray is covered in baking paper to protect its surface.

Honey Saffron White Chocolate Panna Cotta & Pistachio Toffee by Jackie Martini

Once your toffee is in place, you can sprinkle any toppings you want, such as nuts, sprinkles or chocolate, on top.  Leave your toffee to cool – if you need it cooled quickly, you can stick it in the fridge for a while.

Spiced Ginger Cupcake with Earl Grey Buttercream Frosting by Deborah Hopley

Then serve, alongside any other dishes and desserts you love!

Other things you can do with toffee

Spun toffee

A favourite of celebrity chefs and other fans of spectacular food presentation, a woven “bird’s nest” of toffee strands can give your dessert an additional degree of elaborate elegance.

Grand Marnier & Vanilla Profiteroles from Gourmet Getaways

To prepare spun toffee, go through the usual steps of making toffee above.  When you take the boiled mixture off the heat and put it in the cold water, get ready to work fast.

Take a fork and scoop up some of the mixture on its tines (you can also use a chopstick).  Gently drizzle this back and forth over your food, or if you want to make a particular shape, you can use a mould – a rolling pin covered in butcher’s paper should do nicely for making a simple arch.

Once the toffee has dried and hardened, you’ll be left with a beautiful and delicious creation.

Honeycomb toffee

You know Crunchies, Violet Crumbles and other similar chocolate bars with a crumbly golden filling?  Did you know that you can make your own at home?

All you need to do is follow the standard toffee recipe, but before you take your toffee off the heat, add a spoonful of bicarb soda to the mix – this will react with the mixture and create carbon dioxide, resulting int your toffee starting to bubble like a little volcano.

Give it a quick stir to make sure the bicarb is right through the mixture, then immediately remove from the heat and get ready to pour it out.  The final result should be a toffee that’s full of bubbles, much like a honeycomb or a sponge, giving it a lighter, fluffier texture.

Toffee Apples

It’s a classic to be sure.

While there’s nothing really wrong with brown toffee on apples as seen above, it’s traditional to add some food colouring to the toffee as it boils, and once it’s ready, give the apple on a stick a good dipping.  If you’re eager, make two toffee batches in different colours and give your apples a two-tone appearance.

How do you make your toffee?  Let us know how it goes!

Mark Bristow
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Mark Bristow

Mark is the proud owner of an impractically large paella pan, and enjoys putting strange new twists on classic recipes. Google+

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  • When I was school girl I make this and I roll up when was little bit cooler and I could touch that and with sissers cut into small lollies created small pillows.That time was very,very yummy for us.


    by ANNA LINHART on 05/05/2013, 17:18
  • nice to be told some of the science such as vinegar to reduce crystalisation


    by nick shaw on 23/02/2014, 05:21
    nick shaw