Jeff’s mom is the kind of person who always has a tin of cookies ready. No matter when you visit there is a batch of toffee squares in the fridge. She makes batches of them to give out during the holidays and most of the Jeff’s friends from high school have fond memories of eating them. I didn’t know what toffee squares were before I met Jeff but now I generally find myself reaching for them every time we visit. And, on rare occasions, I’ll make them myself.
Don’t let my reluctance to make these fool you – they are sweet and buttery and completely addictive. It’s a little baffling to me that these were ever present when Jeff was growing up and he remained a pretty skinny teenager.
In the last few years I’ve seen a lot of recipes for these cookie-candy hybrids popping up around the internet. But this one is hers. Or perhaps, more like ours. I follow her recipe, but Jeff insists that these taste different from his mom’s and I’m ok with that. They are pretty easy to throw together and allow for a lot of variation in the way you make them. Switch up the kind of nuts you use, throw some toffee bits on top, or substitute peanut butter chips for butterscotch. A lot of recipes make them kosher for Passover using matzah which is actually pretty ok – just add some additional salt to the toffee to make up for the missing saltine crackers.
Part of the reason I can keep myself from making these very often is that I don’t generally have saltines in the house just to snack on and those are the base of these cookies. Everything else is standard pantry goods and it takes about as long as a batch of cookies – so not really a lot of time – to throw these together.
If you have never made caramel before, this is actually a really great introduction to the process. Using brown sugar is cheating a little since it adds a caramel-ly color and taste to the squares even if you don’t cook it longer so it is easier to avoid burning it (although I have done many, many, many times looking for a deeper flavor). There’s a lot more butter than in a traditional caramel but the underlying process if the same – melt the sugar, swirl it around the pan but don’t stir it. Let it bubble up until it darkens in color to your liking and then remove it from the heat. Don’t get worried that there isn’t enough toffee to cover all the squares; just make sure to spread it to the corners and it will take care of itself in the oven.
These do make a great gift or a dessert for a pot luck because you can make them way ahead of time and either refrigerate or freeze them in an airtight container until needed. I can’t really tell you how long they last that way because we’ve never managed to keep them around more than two weeks in the freezer (and only if we’re saving them for something in particular) but they will keep at least that long frozen. Whatever you do, don’t open the container to check on them – the caramel and chocolate smell may overpower you and leave you 20 minutes later with an empty container and a slight tummy-ache. Not that I’m speaking from experience.
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter*
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 ½ sleeves of saltines (about 30 saltine crackers)**
1 cup chocolate chips
½ cup butterscotch chips
½ – 1 cup slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cover a baking sheet with foil and layout out saltine crackers on the pan so that they completely cover the surface without overlapping. You will have to break some saltines to get in all the edges – just make sure you cover the whole surface. Mix the chocolate and butterscotch chips in a large bowl and stir to combine them thoroughly.
Combine the butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Stir until the butter and sugar are partly melted, then put the spoon aside and swirl the pan to help melt the rest. Turn the heat to medium and let the mixture come to a boil. The edges will boil up higher than the middle and it will start to fall in on itself toward the middle of the pan. When this starts happening set a timer for 3 minutes and cook the sugar mixture, swirling it gently every 30 seconds or so to distribute the heat. After three minutes, the mixture should be a few shades darker but not true caramel color yet – this is good because it will bake after this. If you cook it until “done” at this point it will burn in the oven.
When the toffee is done, take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture over the saltine crackers. Use a spatula to push the toffee into the edges of the pan so that all the corners and sides are covered in toffee. Don’t worry if it seems uneven, the oven will take care of it.
Bake the toffee covered crackers for 10-15 minutes, until the toffee is a shade or two darker and is evenly distributed. Check the edges to make sure they don’t burn.
When the squares are done baking set them on the stove to cool – setting them on a cool counter would make them cool too quickly – and set a timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, sprinkle the chips over the surface and let them sit for five minutes. When the chips have sat for a few minutes to soften, spread them evenly over the surface of the squares using a spatula. Make sure to push the chocolate right to the edges of the pan so that each bite is coated in chocolate. Sprinkle the almonds over the melted chocolate and move the pan to the counter to cool. Once it comes down to room temperature you can harden the chocolate by putting the pan in the fridge.
When the chocolate is fully hardened, peel the large rectangle off the foil and break it into squares. It will generally break along the lines of the saltines but irregular shapes are just as delicious. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to two weeks.
*Even if you generally use salted butter in baked good, skip it here because the saltines add enough salt to the mix.
** In order to fill a sheet pan completely you have to break some crackers and if you’re anything like me, at least some of them will break unevenly and require you to break more so be sure and have some extra.