The Early Origins of Toffee
In the historical annals of candy, toffee is far from an ancient treat. Most food historians concur the sweet treat rose to prominence sometime during the early 19th century. England and many other European countries took a particular liking to toffee thanks to their plentiful butter supplies. At any rate, toffee took off in the early 1800’s, and we know this for a fact since The Oxford English Dictionary first mentioned the word “toffee” in 1825. Naturally, the word had been in use for some time before making its way into a dictionary, so it is safe to assume that the English and other Europeans were enjoying toffee years before the word’s first appearance in a historical document. While the origins of toffee do not have a clear historical consensus, the toffee eaten today also has an interesting background in its own right.
The Toffee of Today
Interestingly, however, the toffee that is so cherished by many Americans today is not the toffee of English origin. In fact, it is actually more accurate to call it a different name entirely. The English toffee eaten with regularity in America is also called buttercrunch. What’s the difference? Primarily, the difference rests in the ingredients. Toffee in Britain is made with brown sugar, whereas buttercrunch is made with white granulated sugar. The differences do not stop there, however, since the delectable buttercrunch is usually made with a nice variety of nuts and other flavorings. Traditional British toffee, on the other hand, is not made with nuts. It is fair to ask, then, why the name English toffee persisted when most Americans are enjoying buttercrunch.
It could well be that English toffee simply sounded preferable to the ear. Buttercrunch just doesn’t have quite the same ring as English toffee does it? Or, perhaps businesses simply thought the fancy phrasing of “English toffee” would sell better and stuck with the name. At any rate, the term English toffee is here to stay.
Buttercrunch by Any Other Name…
No matter what you want to call it, toffee isn’t going anywhere. This is evidenced by the many flavors and varieties of toffee/buttercrunch that exist. There are a wide range of toffees available, and as a general rule they are almost all delicious. Still, given the amount of variety out there, you might be left wondering how to discern good buttercrunch/toffee. In many ways good toffee is a matter of personal preference, but there are some general standards to keep in mind. First, good toffee will not be burned or scorched, and even with its buttery nature, toffee should not be too greasy. It also should not be difficult to bite into, which can be an issue with thicker toffees of lower quality. Gritty toffee is also best avoided, and any nuts used should taste as fresh as possible. After that, it’s really down to personal preference, and fortunately, there are plenty of options to satisfy every preference.
Some buttercrunches and toffees are very thin, whereas others are thicker. Even textures vary, so expect to come across soft and chewy toffee as well as a traditional English butter toffee that is nice and crunchy. Chocolate used can be milk, white or dark, which only adds to the variety. As such, it really is a great choice to try them all and see which toffees taste best to you, although it is unlikely that you’ll need your arm twisted to try another delicious type of toffee!