Making toffee or buttercrunch is a traditional holiday activity and makes a lovely gift. But if your toffee is getting stuck in everyone’s teeth, there’s something wrong. What makes toffee chewy?
Toffee gets chewy when there is too much moisture in it. Undercooking toffee can leave it moist and chewy, while recipes that include a lot of dairy also make chewy toffee. Humidity can influence toffee-making and cause stored toffees to soften and get sticky.
Most American recipes for toffee are for buttercrunch or hard toffee, with the texture of nut brittle. Getting your toffee to set hard means heating it to the right temperature to cook out moisture. It would help if you stored your toffee correctly to stay crisp.
Why Is My Toffee Chewy?
Chewy toffee is caused by moisture in your toffee mixture, whether during the cooking and setting process or when the cooked toffee is stored.
Let’s look at why toffee gets chewy and how to avoid it.
Undercooked Toffee Is Chewy
Your toffee will turn out soft, sticky, and chewy if you haven’t cooked it enough. “Enough cooking” doesn’t mean you haven’t cooked the toffee for long enough – you haven’t cooked it hot enough to evaporate most of the moisture.
The result of undercooking toffee is that your sugar mixture is not sufficiently concentrated as it failed to reach the required temperature or stage of cooking.
To make your toffee hard and crunchy, your sugar mixture needs to reach the hard-crack stage, when a candy thermometer measures 300⁰F (150⁰C).
This table shows the different stages when making candy:
|Type of candy
|Stage In Cold Water Test
How to Avoid Undercooking Your Toffee
People undercook their toffee if they don’t know how it should look when ready. Cooks use two tools or methods to check when their toffee is done.
Using a Candy Thermometer
A candy thermometer that measures how hot a sugar mixture is is one of the most accurate kitchen tools to check that your toffee mixture is cooked correctly.
Your candy thermometer will tell you when your toffee has reached the correct temperature, about 300⁰F (150⁰C).
However, if your candy thermometer is not working accurately, it can misread the temperature and result in chewy toffee. Test your candy thermometer by dipping it into iced water, where it should read 32⁰F (0⁰C), or boiling water, which should measure 212⁰F (100⁰C).
The freezing and boiling points will differ slightly depending on your elevation. Check the correct temperature range for your location’s height above sea level, as it can vary by a couple of degrees.
Using the Cold Water Test
Another way of testing whether your toffee is cooked is to use the cold water test: according to this test, the toffee needs to reach the hard crack stage.
To use the cold water test, set out a wooden spoon and a container of very cold (not iced) water. Take your toffee off the heat so that it doesn’t overcook while you’re testing.
Drop a teaspoonful of your toffee mixture into the water.
Using your fingertips, pinch or roll the mixture. The texture of the sugar mixture will tell you what stage of cooking it has reached and whether it is ready.
The cold water test uses the reaction of hot sugar to cold water as a test: a hot sugar mixture hardens in cold water. The higher the concentration of sugar, the harder and more brittle the texture.
If your toffee has reached the hard-crack stage, the mixture should form brittle threads that snap easily out of the water.
The hard-crack stage tells you that your mixture has a high sugar concentration and that the other liquids have evaporated, which is what you need when making toffee.
If your toffee hasn’t reached the hard-crack stage, cook it for a little longer to remove more moisture and test again.
Here is an explanation of the cold water test results:
|Type of candy
|A soft, limp, sticky ball forms, easily flattened in your fingers.
|A ball that holds its shape will form.
|A hard yet pliable ball forms.
|Soft or light crack
|The mixture forms firm, slightly brittle threads or strands that you can stretch or bend.
|The mixture forms stiff, brittle threads that snap easily.
Buttery Toffee Is Chewy
Hard toffee like peanut brittle or buttercrunch is sweet and crisp, breaking into shards.
This kind of toffee is so hard because it has a high concentration of sugar. The higher the sugar concentration, the crunchier the cooled toffee will be.
If you’re using a recipe from the UK – not the “English” toffee in the US – you may find that it uses a lot more butter, milk, cream, or condensed milk. The high proportion of dairy means that the toffee mixture is far more moist, resulting in a lower sugar concentration.
This toffee style is more like a caramel candy and only cooked to the firm ball or soft crack stage.
How to Avoid Buttery Toffee
When you’re setting out to make brittle, crisp toffee, make sure you use a recipe for buttercrunch or nut brittle, with a high proportion of sugar to liquid.
Use a US recipe rather than a UK one, as UK toffees are often intentionally softer and chewier.
Poorly Stored Toffee Is Chewy
When you’ve cooked your toffee to the hard-crack stage, and you’ve been rewarded with a tin of thick, crunchy toffee, it’s disappointing to come back a couple of days later only to find that it has softened and become chewy.
The chewy toffee culprit here is humidity – instead of moisture from inside the toffee, this is moisture from outside.
How to Store Your Toffee
To stop your toffee from sticking together and becoming chewy, do the following:
- Coat the toffee in a thin layer of cocoa powder (if covered in chocolate) or cornstarch (if plain). The powder will absorb excess humidity from the air and protect your toffee.
- Layer your toffee between sheets of wax paper.
- Store toffee in an airtight glass or tin container. Glass is less permeable to water vapor than plastic.
- Store homemade toffee at room temperature for one to two weeks at the most, less if you have used a lot of butter. In warm weather, the butter can cause toffee to go rancid.
- You can store toffee in the fridge for longer shelf life.
If your toffee turns out sticky and chewy rather than hard and crispy, check whether you have undercooked it or used a recipe that uses a lot of butter and cream. Stored toffee will also turn chewy if moisture gets in, so always store toffee airtight or in the fridge.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.