Chapel Hill Toffee

Just after the holidays I was meeting some friends for dinner who share my interest in food. I wanted to give each a little something as a gift. Not having time to make something myself, I decided to head to Southern Season. My daughter and I wandered around the candy section, looking to see if we could find something local. We started talking with a man who works there who suggested Chapel Hill Toffee and gave us each a taste. As he did so a woman walked by with an empty cart and started loading it up with the toffees. She saw that we were trying it and said, “I’ve been sent by all my out of town friends to buy the store out of this stuff. Everyone loves it.” After tasting it, we could immediately see why, and quickly knew this was the gift for our friends. If you’re looking for something just a little different but still sweet to give your Valentine, Chapel Hill Toffee might be just the thing.

I’ve always been a fan of Heath bars and kind of assumed all toffee tastes the same. While I still like Heath’s, Chapel Hill Toffee is some seriously good candy. And, unlike most toffee, it doesn’t bring to mind visions of your next visit to the dentist to replace an old filling. Instead of fighting you back, these toffees almost melt in your mouth. Knowing that it was a family-made local product, I decided to find out more.

Karen Graves, who started Chapel Hill Toffee, is from New England and the original toffee recipe had been passed down on her maternal side. She’s been making it all her life. Once she moved to Chapel Hill Karen decided to tweak the recipe to give it a more southern taste. She decided to coat it in dark chocolate and add chopped pecans – both on the outside with the chocolate and inside (which seems to be the secret to why it doesn’t stick to one’s teeth). Karen would send her son Mark off to school with it, and give it as gifts, and she kept hearing that she should sell it since it was so delicious. After years of praise she finally decided to give it a try when she read an article in the paper in 2006 about Southern Season looking for local products.

In the meantime her son Mark became a banker. When the banking crisis hit in 2008 he lost his job. Karen was doing so well selling her toffee that she needed some help, and Mark joined his mother in the business. At this point they came up with new packaging and new points of sale – the toffee is now available in over 60 stores.

Originally made in Karen’s kitchen, they now needed to find more space. They found space in a commercial kitchen just outside of Chapel Hill, a portion of which is completely theirs. It is in this space that they make the candy, wrap and box it, and ship it. 

I think the best (and easiest) way to eat Chapel Hill toffee is straight out of the box. But you could also crumble it up and put it on ice cream. The Graves’ friend Jean Durham makes an ice cream toffee pie. She uses a pre-made Oreo pie crust, fills it with softened ice cream (her favorite is coffee, but she also recommends mocha and vanilla) into which she has mixed broken toffee pices. She then covers it and freezes until solid. Before serving it’s spread with Cool Whip and more toffee pieces sprinkled on top.

I’ve been making toffee and walnut blondies for years now. I love them, but my husband has complained that they need a little chocolate. Using chocolate covered Chapel Hill Toffee can finally bring peace to our house (at least on the toffee blondie issue). I thought it also made sense to change the walnuts to pecans.

Chapel Hill Toffee Blondies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup Chapel Hill toffee bits
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. I find the easiest way to break the toffee into bits is to put down a piece of wax paper and then smack the toffee quickly with a rolling pin. They tend to break apart easily in your hands after that, and you can get out any aggressions you may be harboring at the same time; cooking as anger management!

Using a blender, mix together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, vanilla and salt. At low speed add flour slowly until combined. Stir in toffee and pecans.

Spread the batter (which will be very thick) in the pan and bake until golden (about 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean), cool in pan. Lift the lining and peel off, putting the blondie sheet on a plate, where it can be cut.

You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.

Countdown to Kick Off…

Let me guess.  You’ve been invited to a Super Bowl party on Sunday…maybe even more than one.  If you’re a Giants or Patriots fan, then you’re probably going for the game watching and will be glued to the flat screen (or staying home out of superstition).  If you’re a big-time NFL fan, but your team is not in the Big Bowl, then you’re probably interested in the game with a secondary interest in the party extracurriculars.  The rest of us fall in the final category.  We’re there to watch the commercials and socialize.  Eat, drink and be merry!  If your party hosts have asked you to bring a favorite appetizer or dessert, then it’s time to get creative.  Forgo the bag of chips and salsa that you planned to pick up on your way to the party, and surprise your hosts and friends with a little imagination and effort.  Need some help?  I’ve got ya covered!  

Here are some step-by-step easy recipe ideas for even the most challenged party-goers or throwers.

St. Andre Dip (aka Cheese Fondue in a bread bowl)
Buy your favorite oval or round loaf of bread.  Harris Teeter bakery has some on sale this week (bonus!) like Italian Round, Rosemary Olive Oil or Pumpernickel Boule.  Cut a football shaped opening out of the top crust of the bread and scoop out the middle in cubes or chunks that can be used for dipping. (Pretend like you’re pulling out pieces for Communion.)  Now you have your football shaped edible bread bowl.  The dip requires
3/4 pounds St. Andre Cheese (the world’s most famous triple crème cheese), 8 ounces cream cheese, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano (i.e. Parmesan Cheese) and 1/4 cup white wine.  Mix above ingredients together and heat in the microwave on high for five minutes (possibly less depending on your microwave).  Serve the dip warm inside the hollow bread bowl and serve with the bread cubes, veggies, pretzels and chips.  I told you it was easy!  And oh so good!  Thanks to Maura Zarnik for this delicious dip recipe.

Pull Apart Turkey Tailgate Sandwiches (aka Scooby Snacks)
Go to the bread aisle of your favorite grocery store and buy whatever brand pull apart rolls you can find like Pepperidge Farms, King Hawaiian, etc.  They usually come in packs of 12 or 24.  Cut the rolls in half horizontally keeping them attached.  Butter one side and sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Spread your favorite mayo and mustard on the other side.  Layer the bottom half of the rolls with thinly sliced turkey (or ham) and thin slices (or shredded) cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese.  Add the top layer of rolls and wrap them in foil.  Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese melts. (approximately 10-15 minutes)

Filling and easy to pull apart and eat.  Thanks to fellow Local Buzz columnist Jan Bolick for sharing this recipe with me years ago that she remembers from a dear friend’s Mom.

Easy Cheese Bake
Two cups chopped sweet onions, two cups shredded cheese (your choice) and two cups light mayo.  Mix ingredients together.  Place in casserole dish and bake until bubbly and brown in a 350 degree oven.  You will definitely score points with this party pleaser from Jean Durham’s always tasty repertoire.

Carvel or Snickers Brand Game Ball Ice Cream Cake
I love themed food!  Here’s your hall pass to visit the frozen food aisle of your favorite grocery store.  Yes, it’s a cake shaped like a football.  You will be the hit of halftime!
I’m making cheese fondue in a bread bowl and possibly picking up the game ball ice cream cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  I’ve also dusted off my NFL vinyl table cloth that looks like a football field and my football stadium platter and football shaped serving bowls to share at a friend’s party.  The tailgate queen travels with her themed accoutrements!  

Enjoy the game, the commercials, the camaraderie and the spread!  And may the best team win!

Those are my Super Bowl party secrets.  Email me for more party pleasing recipes and share yours below.