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Originally made in Karen’s kitchen, they now needed to find more space.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
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.http://chapelboro.com/columns/kari-winter/chapel-hill-toffee/