The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton was one of the first chapter books EldestGirl and I read together. I had loved it as a child, and remember playing for hours, imagining I had my own slippery slip to slide down a giant tree. Unfortunately, my parents lived in a new-build in the Midlands, so the chances of this being installed in my bedroom were fairly slim.
EldestGirl loved the books too, and requested for this month’s Let’s Cook the Books that we should make toffee shocks – a magical sweet that grows larger and larger in your mouth before popping completely away to nothing. As we do not claim any relation to Heston Blumenthal, I suggested we refocused on something slightly easier. She relented and suggested the toffee that Beth makes for Moon Face. I always feel a bit sorry for old Moon Face, whose face is massive and round like the moon. I like to imagine every time someone addresses him as Moon Face, he’s secretly thinking to himself, “For fuck’s sake, my name’s Steve.”
When I was a child, toffee was strictly verboten. I was practically read a government health warning about it, every time I even said the word. It would ruin my teeth. I would get fillings! I would DIE. My mum didn’t actually say this last bit, but I felt the implication was there. As a result, toffee was Very Exciting Indeed and was to be taken advantage of at every possible opportunity. Occasionally at a Christmas or birthday, Mr Nunn would smuggle some Thorntons Special Toffee to me, to the disgust and censure of Mrs Nunn.
Very, very occasionally, the family recipe book was opened and Mr Nunn made his own batch of toffee. This recipe was handed down from a friend of a friend of a friend who worked at the Thorntons factory and it was absolutely definitely the exact Thorntons recipe. I mean, it totally wasn’t, but it was very nice all the same.
So EldestGirl and I thought we would have a crack at making our own toffee. If eight year-old Beth from The Magic Faraway Tree could do it all by herself, so could I.
It seems appropriate here to take a break and reflect on the poor parenting of Joe, Beth and Franny (or for die-hard old-school copies of the book – Jo, Bess and Fanny). Not only do their parents let them wander in the dark woods all by themselves for days at a time – even making them a picnic and telling them they can stay out all day, not only do they ask no questions when the children show up with chickens, a goat and the fact that several of them got trapped in a foreign land for hours on end, but the parents show no evidence of safeguarding or even a cursory sign of surprise when a whole load of cosplaying weirdo adults show up at their home and call on the children. And to top it all, Jesus Christ, no eight year-old should make toffee by themselves.
I used to have a sugar thermometer, but I suspect it is in the garage in the Big Boxes of Doom we haven’t unpacked since moving house
over three years ago. Instead, I used the method of iced water and waiting until the toffee reached the hardball stage. Basically I spent the evening which was supposed to be a lovely bonding cooking experience with my eldest, shouting, “STAY AWAY FROM THE STOVE! THIS IS SO HOT IT WILL LITERALLY KILL YOU!”
If you would like to make Bess’/Beth’s toffee from The Magic Faraway Tree, here’s how we made it. NB – this is not the Thorntons hand-me-down recipe because I suspect my parents wouldn’t part with it, for fear of getting their friend’s, friend’s, friend fired from Thorntons. Regardless of the fact she would almost certainly be over the age of 106 by now. And literally never worked for Thorntons.
450g white sugar (I know. Don’t think about it too much)
265g golden syrup (seriously, stop thinking about it)
480ml double cream (look, nobody said this was health food)
1 tsp vanilla essence
Basically bung all the sugar, golden syrup, butter and half the cream into a massive saucepan (the volume hugely increases when it boils) and heat. Stir, stir, stir. Once it starts to boil, add the other half of the cream really slowly. Don’t let the mixture come off the boil, so add it little by little to avoid cooling the mixture.
Stir for about 30 minutes and shout at your children about how dangerous this is and how they should KEEP AWAY.
Get a glass of water with a few ice cubes in. Periodically drip bits of the toffee mixture into the glass. When it forms a chewy consistency, it’s ready. Take it off the heat and add the teaspoon of vanilla essence. Stir, stir stir.
Pour into prepared tins with baking paper or (as I prefer) silicone trays.
Score the toffee when slightly cooled, to make it easier to break into lumps. (Although I am sure my dad broke the toffee with a hammer. Not a special toffee hammer. Literally the hammer out of the garage. We all survived.) It’s easier to snap into lumps when it’s been in the fridge.
Put in small packets (it WILL stick together in one big lump otherwise) and keep in the freezer for bloody ages and to hide it from your mum.
Eat it in the manner of Moon Face (“My name’s Steve!”) whilst saying “Ooble obble ooble.”