Gourmet magazine, December 1998.
I have been making this recipe for sixteen years from the pages of what was and will always be my favorite publication. I can still summon that feeling of anticipation when my monthly Gourmet magazine would arrive in the mailbox. For many years, my annual subscription was a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law. It almost always took the whole month to read each issue from cover to cover. Back in my day there were lavish photographs and glorious food writers like Laurie Colwin, MFK Fisher, Madhur Jaffrey, James Beard, and of course Jane and Michael Stern who were regular contributors. These are the foodies who shaped my cooking style, and I can trace my evolution and general outlook for eating and entertaining through those pages.
When I cleaned out some of my files a few years ago, I was stunned by the number of images and stories I had torn out and tucked into folders. All those places I hoped to visit with sun drenched hillsides and mile long farm tables draped with linen and laden with huge platters. Four pages in particular featured an old Parisian apartment with Maxfield Parrish blue walls, deep aubergine velvet drapes and foggy antique mirrors. The side table was partially covered in an old tapestry topped with a silver tray loaded with olives and cheese and dried fruit. Beautiful crystal wine glasses with a bottle of wine rounded out the picture, and even though I finally threw out those pages, the evocative image remains. All of the stories and settings and places were as far from my day-to-day life as could possibly be, but that publication allowed me to dream big and encouraged me to find important parts and pieces that now define my life.
I still remember the day the announcement came that Conde Nast Publishing was folding Gourmet but keeping Bon Appetit in circulation. It was October 5th, 2009. I promise I can still summon that shocked moment of utter disbelief and despair. There are a number of us who still hold a moment of silence over that dreadful decision.
Slowly, slowly I came around to the idea of reading recipes online, and I let go of that old comfortable habit of reading a magazine before sleep. But I miss my Gourmets. I miss getting that little card in the mail that announced that someone loved me enough to pay for another year of armchair eating and travel. I miss those great food writers, and I can confess I really miss tearing out all those pages filled with stunning images and challenging recipes to tuck away for some surprising rainy day reminiscing.
At least we still have the recipes archived on Epicurious. It is reassuring to know that if my tattered and stained Christmas recipes page ever falls apart or goes missing, I could likely find a basic recipe stored in their bits and bytes. But, it is still not the same without the luxe visuals and stories. Luckily, I have amassed quite a few vivid memories and stories of my own over the years.
The original recipe is located here. I altered the recipe years ago out of necessity and need in order to stretch my gift-giving budget. The original calls for almost double the sliced almonds and chocolate. Certainly I encourage you to use the original, but if you are tight on funds, you can stick with me.
- • 1 ½ cups sliced almonds
- • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- • 1½ cups sugar
- • ⅓ cup water
- • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- • ½ teaspoon vanilla
- • ¼ teaspoon salt
- • 4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Butter or oil a large sheet pan. I use a Silpat.
- On another large baking pan, spread almonds evenly and toast in middle of oven, stirring nuts halfway through toasting, until golden, about 10 minutes. Don’t walk away! Nuts burn on principle if you don’t pay enough attention.
- In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, bring butter, sugar, water, lemon juice, and salt to a boil over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Boil mixture, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally, until deep golden, about 12 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and stir in the vanilla and 1 cup of the almonds.
- Immediately pour toffee onto baking sheet, and with an offset spatula, spread in a thin layer.
- Carefully transfer baking sheet (it will be very hot) to a rack and cool toffee. This will take about 1 hour.
- Break up the chocolate and either melt carefully in the microwave or melt in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth
- Pour chocolate over cooled toffee and spread evenly in a thin layer with offset spatula or a silicone spatula. Sprinkle toffee with remaining almonds.
- Chill toffee, uncovered, until firm, at least 1 hour.
- Break toffee into 2-inch pieces of "bark." Bark keeps, layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature or chilled, for one week.