Gift-giving from the kitchen
Charlene Tatosian and Debbie Nieto's homemade toffee is in demand around the holidays. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
(Adapted from Charlene Tatosian)
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup roasted, salted, chopped almonds
Melt butter and sugar over medium heat until golden brown, stirring constantly for about 20 minutes.
Pour mixture on cookie sheet, and spread.
Sprinkle chocolate morsels on top. Melt and spread morsels.
Sprinkle nuts and pat down.
Cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate until hard.
Break into pieces.
Store in airtight container in refrigerator.
Updated: December 12, 2012 1:51PM
From cookies to candies, some of the most treasured gifts this holiday season will be wrapped up in the kitchen.
At Hair Image, a salon in Highland Park, staffers are clamoring for a sweet, crunchy treat — homemade toffee. They’ve grown accustomed to receiving the sugary delight as a gift every year from clients Charlene Tatosian and Debbie Nieto.
“We don’t share it with anyone, because it tastes so good,” says Hair Image Owner Pat Mayberry.
In fact, they’re not shy about speaking up for extra toffee.
“They’re already asking for more,” Nieto says with a laugh. “They get more than anyone and it’s never enough.”
Nieto, owner of Nieto’s and Cafe Central restaurants in Highland Park, and Tatosian, a former Wilmette resident, are long-time gal pals who have been making toffee together for 15 years. It’s their tradition to spend one day in late November making about nine trays of toffee in the kitchen in Tatosian’s condo in Chicago. “We wear Santa hats and sip wine while we make toffee,” Tatosian says.
Much of the toffee is divided into eight-ounce portions and bagged into small clear plastic bags and given away. The ladies present the bags of the toffee throughout the holidays to everyone from distant cousins to delivery workers; from their own kids to mail carriers.
“Our old mailman still calls me every year. He stops by to pick up a bag,” Tatosian says.
Tatosian also keeps a stash of grab-and-give bags of toffee in her car so she can surprise people. “It makes me feel great. I love doing it,” she says.
Nieto agrees. “I love giving it away, because even people who don’t like desserts love the toffee,” she says.
Tatosian says making toffee is easier than cookie baking. With toffee-making, the only real challenge is constantly stirring the butter and sugar on the stovetop for 20 minutes, until it achieves a golden brown color.
“You have to be patient,” Tatosian says. “You can’t walk away from it for 20 minutes — not even to go answer the phone, or it will burn.”
Plenty of other toffee recipes require a thermometer to monitor when the toffee reaches approximately 300 degrees, but Tatosian’s recipe is thermometer-free.
Despite the close attention required, she makes about 37 trays of toffee each season, beginning right after Thanksgiving.
“So that’s 20 minutes times 37,” she points out.
For those not among Tatosian and Nieto’s lucky toffee recipients, their toffee will be for sale during the holidays at Nieto’s and Cafe Central restaurants.
Whether making toffee or baking cookies, multiple batches allow for increased opportunities to give away the results. But don’t get carried away by the lure of giving more away.
“Make double batches so you can give some away,” suggests Linda Wiens of Prairie Crossing Institute in Grayslake, where she has taught students how to bake cookies. “But never triple the batch. That will change the chemistry.”
Simpler, less complicated holiday treats are an option, as well. Make Candy Cane Bark by slowly melting a favorite white chocolate and mixing it with crushed candy canes. Pour the mixture onto wax paper and allow it to harden before breaking the candy into pieces and bagging it. Spread a favorite dark chocolate, melted and mixed with nuts or coconut, onto a sheet of wax paper. Allow the chocolate to harden, and break it up into pieces to be bagged and given away.
And don’t forget to save a few sweet pieces for yourself.