A sweet TREAT Great Britain, 17th century
Bring in the long winter nights with lip-smacking bonfire toffee
450g dark brown sugar 125ml hot water ¼ tsp cream of tartar 120g black treacle 120g golden syrup
Toffee apples, or candy apples as they are called across the Atlantic, are enjoyed every autumn. But while these lollipops are closely associated with Halloween, there’s another sticky treat to be enjoyed on 5 November: bonfire toffee.
Bonfire Night dates back to 1606, when the English Parliament declared 5 November a day of religious celebration after Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot was foiled. While the prayers and sermons thanking God for saving the life of King James I & IV waned over time, the revelries marked by bell ringing, bonfires, and fireworks grew in popularity.
By the late 18th century, the night was associated with mayhem and mischief. It was also around this time the earliest mentions of toffee appeared in Britain. Bonfire toffee, also known as claggan in Scotland, is hard, brittle and darker than the conventional sweet toffee. Sometimes it was formed into lollipops, but more often it was simply smashed into shards. Though how it became associated with Guy Fawkes Night is uncertain, bonfire toffee was regularly made each November until the 1960s. To begin making your bonfire toffee, line the base and sides of a rectangular traybake tin with baking paper. Grease it really well to ensure the sticky treat doesn’t adhere to the parchment, then put your tin to one side.
Pour 125ml hot water in a heavy-bottomed pan, then add the 450g dark brown sugar. We use dark brown sugar rather than regular brown as it has a stronger, more traditional molasses taste. Heat the mixture gently until the sugar is dissolved. Rather than stirring it, tilt the pan if you need to move it around.
Our recipe calls for ¼ tsp cream of tartar, but if you struggle to find it, you could use 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar – note the difference in quantity. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste either of these ingredients. Rather they will prevent the formation of sugar crystals.
Weigh out your remaining ingredients. Note that if you put them in a really well greased jug they will be much easier to pour out. Once the sugar has dissolved add all the ingredients and pop the sugar thermometer in, you can use the thermometer to give it a quick swirl but try not to mix it too much.
Bring to the boil and boil until you reach soft crack on your thermometer (270°F/140°C). This may take up to 30 minutes, be patient and do not leave the pan unattended as it can change quickly. As soon as it reaches the temp, tip it into your tin and leave it to cool.
If you want even pieces, let the toffee partially cool. This can take 15-20 minutes. Partially cut the toffee into even portions with an oiled knife, then break along these lines once it’s cooled. Alternatively, you can smash it up into irregular shards with a toffee hammer or rolling pin once the dish has fully cooled. In either case, store it in an airtight container with individual layers of toffee separated by baking paper.
Boys wearing masks parade their Guy