Toffee, often called English toffee to distinguish it from the softer American taffy, is a hard, crunchy candy. Ideally, toffee should be so hard that you can snap it into pieces.
If your toffee hasn’t set but remained soft and squidgy, there’s a problem. Why does toffee sometimes turn out too soft?
Toffee stays soft and doesn’t harden if you haven’t cooked it to a high enough temperature, between 270 and 300⁰F. Toffee will also be soft if you use a high proportion of butter or condensed milk. Humidity can also influence how hard your toffee will be.
Depending on your preference, the texture of toffee can range from soft, chewy caramel to shard-like brittle. Simple toffee recipes include sugar and water, but you can change this up with cream, butter, syrup, and condensed milk to vary the hardness level.
Let’s look at what makes toffee soft and how to fix toffee that’s too soft.
Why Is My Toffee Too Soft?
Even if you prefer your toffee more toothsome and less crunchy, you’ll always want this type of candy to be firm. If your toffee turns out too soft, there are a couple of elements you need to look at.
1 – Soft Toffee Is Undercooked Toffee
The primary reason for toffee being too soft is that it is undercooked. Undercooking toffee doesn’t mean cooking it for too short a time. Instead, undercooked toffee implies that the sugar didn’t reach the required temperature or stage of cooking.
To set properly, your toffee mixture needs to reach the hard-crack stage, which means it will measure 300⁰F (150⁰C) on a candy thermometer. Look at this table to see the different stages when making candy:
|Type of candy
|Stage In Cold Water Test
How to Test That Your Toffee Is Cooked
Usually, you undercook your toffee if you don’t recognize when it is cooked. Fortunately, there are tests and tools to help you cook your toffee to the right temperature.
The “Brown Paper Bag” Test
One way of recognizing when your toffee has cooked enough is to use the so-called brown paper bag test. This test simply means cooking your toffee until it is the color of a brown paper bag.
When you start cooking your ingredients, they will be pale – whether you’re using a traditional recipe that only includes sugar and water or one that has butter, syrup, or treacle as ingredients.
Slowly, the mixture will turn frothy, and after about four minutes, it will start turning brown.
However, it would be best to keep cooking until the mixture has turned medium to golden-brown, the color of a brown paper bag. This process will take up to 20 minutes.
The Cold Water Test
Another way of testing whether your toffee is cooked is to use the cold water test: the toffee needs to reach the hard crack stage.
To perform this test, use a clean wooden spoon or warm metal spoon to drop a tiny quantity of your sugar mixture (less than a teaspoonful) into a container of very cold water.
Pinch the mixture between your fingers. The texture will tell you how hot the mix is and whether it has reached the correct temperature.
Hot sugar will react to cold water by hardening, so the higher the concentration of sugar, the harder the texture. If your mixture has a high sugar concentration, it means the other liquids have evaporated, which is what you’re looking for.
Just take care not to let your toffee mixture burn or overcook while you are testing – instead, remove it from the heat.
If your toffee hasn’t reached the correct stage, cook it for a little longer 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.
Using a Candy Thermometer
One of the most accurate kitchen tools to check that your toffee mixture is properly cooked is a candy thermometer.
A candy thermometer is a unique kitchen tool that tells you when your mixture has reached the correct temperature, about 300⁰F (150⁰C).
Make sure that your thermometer is accurate. Test it by plunging it into iced water – it should read 32⁰F (0⁰C). Boiling water should measure 212⁰F (100⁰C). This temperature will differ slightly depending on how far above sea level you are. Check the correct temperature range for your elevation.
2 – Humid Weather Causes Soft Toffee
Humidity can influence the result of your candy-making activities. Check the weather report before making toffee, as moisture can make your toffee soft and limp.
On humid days, make sure that you cook your toffee to at least one degree higher than on dry days. Also, make sure that you lay it out to set in a cool, dry place.
If possible, avoid making toffee on warm and humid days.
3 – High Butter Content Causes Soft Toffee
Traditional hard toffee recipes contain only sugar and water, rather like the brittle you make using nuts. This kind of toffee is very sweet, with a crisp, breakable texture.
Brittle toffee gets its texture from the high sugar concentration – the higher the sugar concentration, the harder a mixture will be upon cooling.
Most toffee recipes, especially for English toffees, contain butter, milk, cream, or condensed milk. This dairy content reduces the sugar concentration and creates a softer, more decadent toffee.
If you want a crunchier toffee, choose a recipe with less butter.
Your toffee will turn out too soft if you undercook it, have too much butter in the recipe, or make toffee when it is humid. To avoid soft toffee, make sure you cook it until it is as brown as a paper bag, also known as hard crack stage, or 300⁰F.
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.