This year, we wised up. Jam-making is really fun but not when you've got gifts to wrap, cards to write, a holiday party to rush off to, and a million other things on your mental to-do list. So we went really simple and just made one thing. I dithered between truffles, and coconut macaroons, and chocolate salted caramels. I even considered making all three, then slapped some sense back into myself. It's easy to get carried away with all aspects of the holidays, especially baking. But for sanity's sake, I highly recommend making large batches of one item. Especially if it's chocolate-pistachio toffee. Similar to a Heath bar, but more delicious, this buttery toffee is covered with a layer of milk chocolate (I usually opt for dark, but the milk lends a great candy bar-like flavor) and topped with pistachios. And best of all, it was ready to go into pretty little gift bags in under an hour, leaving Mindi and I time to have a leisurely lunch and even do a mini pilates workout. Which might sound crazier than canning three dozen jars of marmalade, but hey, you've got to offset the toffee somehow, right?
I started with this recipe from Gourmet, and then made some major tweaks, mainly using pistachios instead of peanuts. A little bit of bright green really says Christmas to me. After reading the numerous comments attached to this recipe, I also made some minor changes to the toffee, like using salted butter instead of salt, and adding six tablespoons of water. (By the way: did you notice that Epicurious now allows you to print selected comments with a recipe? Maybe I'm late to the game on this, but I love that feature.)
4 sticks (1 pound) salted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups sugar
6 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups shelled pistachios
1 1/2 bag milk chocolate chips
*Optional: candy thermometer
Butter two cookie sheets and put on a heatproof surface.
Bring butter, sugar, water, and vanilla to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth, then boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden and registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and carefully pour hot toffee between the two pans, as evenly as possible. (Don't worry if it's not perfect.) Spread with a metal spatula, smoothing the top, and let stand 1 minute, then immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let stand until chocolate is melted, about 3 to 4 minutes, then spread over toffee with cleaned spatula. Sprinkle evenly with pistachios, then freeze until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces.