Browsing through old cookbooks can be an amusing pastime. Giggling at how offal pudding is on the page next to sweet apple pudding. Pondering recommendations for how to cook badger properly. Nodding at a children’s cookbook’s instructions for making toffee and—wait, what?
Is it just me, or is it a tad bit precarious to recommend a six-year-old to—on their own—boil something hot enough that it could cause burns?
A brief history of knäck, the Swedish Christmas toffee
So, despite Reinholds kneck in the 1858 children’s cookbook making me raise my eyebrows, it is still the oldest recipe that I’ve seen for knäck, or Swedish Christmas toffee. The recipe recommends boiling golden syrup with blanched, chopped almonds until the mass becomes hard, and then to pour it into little paper cones.
Surprisingly enough, Charles Emil Hagdahl has nothing like it in his cooking bible from 1896—instead, he talks of candied roses, fondants, and chocolate caramels.
In the more regular cookbooks (for grownups), I find the first mention in Iduns Hjälpreda in 1900. Now, the recipe has evolved to something more similar to today’s, as it includes golden syrup, sugar, cream, and chopped almonds. However, it also features one recipe that is uncommon nowadays—breadcrumbs, created by crushing rusks. Browsing recipes from the early-to-mid 1900s, it turns out that breadcrumbs were popular to give a more porous texture—and more toffees.
How to make knäck—Swedish Christmas toffee
First of all, you’ll need these funny little candy paper cups. In the olden days, you’d make them yourself from small circles of baking paper. If you can’t get hold of any, you can either boil the toffee until it is rather hard, pour it onto a greased baking sheet, and cut or break it into pieces, or make little cones of baking paper, pour the toffee and place a small wooden sticks to turn them into toffee lollipops.
Also, a word of warning—if you have sensitive teeth, be careful when you eat these. As a precaution, you can make them soft and sticky (120°C, 248°F) and chill until eating.
This will make about 70 toffees:
2 dl (0,8 cups) cream (preferably 40% fat)
2 dl (0,8 cups) sugar
2 dl (0,8 cups) golden syrup
1-2 tbsp butter
1,5 dl (0,6 cups) almonds
- Blanch the almonds and chop them finely.
- Put the cream, sugar, and syrup in a large pot and heat them on medium temperature, preferably with a thermometer. Stir it, but only rarely to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- While the toffee heats up, prepare a tray as follows: grease a large baking tray very lightly and place the little paper candy cups on top. The grease limits the cups’ annoying inclination to fall over and make a mess.
- Now, return to your toffee and check on the temperature. You’ll want it to reach your target temperature, as follows: 122°C (252°F) for soft toffees that aren’t sticky, and 125°C (257°F) for firm toffees. Go above that, and you’ll have a hard toffee that is more like a caramel. If you don’t have a thermometer, drip a little of the toffee into a glass of cold water. When the toffee has cooled (it only takes a few seconds), you’ll be able to tell what the consistency will be like. If you can’t form it into a ball, it is too early…
- Once the toffee is ready, stir in the butter and the chopped almonds.
- Remove the pot from the heat and carefully spoon it into the little cups, or pour it with a jug. Work quickly, because soon the toffee will harden and become difficult to work with.
Go ahead and play with the recipe! For example, you can add other kinds of nuts, seeds or candied fruit instead of almond. Add saffron, or vanilla, or cacao as flavors. Or why not leave a little space in the candy cup for some melted chocolate?
If you use a spoon for pouring the toffee, drops from the spoon’s underside can make the paper cups fall over. Scrape it off against the pot’s side, and you’ll limit that risk.
Oh, and don’t double the recipe—it takes forever for it to reach the right temperature.