Yes, this is one of those traditional Goan sweets made at Christmas.  What’s a Goan?  Well, I am from Goa, India – at least my parents are.  So anyone with this heritage is called a Goan.  And if there is one thing we Goan’s are know for, it’s our Christmas sweets.  I remember every Christmas for as long as I lived at home, and many years after, my mum would make this toffee.  “Just a little bit more stirring, we’re almost there…” she would always say.  No matter what stage of the toffee making process we were at, those words could be heard in that most loving and patient tone that only mum’s can have when making something you can’t wait to eat.

Every year, since I was old enough to safely stir this scalding toffee mixture, I would help mum.  Even with her arthritic disabilities she would attempt to stir this toffee dish.  Dad would always help when I wasn’t around.  But this was one of her specialties.  Her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews came to expect this on the dessert table at Christmas – even better, we always got to take some home with us.   That almost neon pink colour and more importantly, the taste of the coconut and sugar, rounded off with some rose water – what memories it brings back.  Mum has been gone for a while but I know that every time I make this sweet, she is right there beside me.  I can still hear her say “Just a little bit more stirring, we’re almost there…”.  If there is list of things for you to try making, this must be one of them.

So the reality is, that we spent hours (or so it seemed) stirring this dish watching for the final stages.  It can go from snow white to caramel colour to burnt in a matter of seconds – after all, it’s sugar we’re working with.  Never having studied the science of candy making – mum never used a thermometer, but she had a keen eye and knew that when you stirred the toffee, if you could see the bottom of the pan clearly for a few seconds, it was ready to pour out onto a buttered surface. She never burnt her toffee.  I don’t have mum’s keen eye, so I’m glad I recently studied (albeit briefly) this science of working with sugar.  We call it the soft ball stage – 235F.  It is around this temperature that the toffee turns from white to caramel – still good, but not for this purpose. So pay close attention to it.  “Just a little bit more stirring, we’re almost there…” – as always – enjoy!

3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup 35% cream
4 tbsp. butter – you need 2 tbsp. with the initial mix and 2 tbsp. at the end
3 cups unsweetened dessicated coconut
1 tsp or so – rosewater or almond extract
Red Food colour gel and a tooth pick or skewer

Note, in mum’s recipe she used to add 2 tbsp. finely chopped unsalted cashew nuts, but as nut allergies developed in her grandchildren she omitted this in the recipe.  But do feel free to add them in, they make for a nice texture and crunch.

Grease a 9 x 12″ baking dish, line with parchment paper, butter the parchment paper – set aside (Mum used to scrub the kitchen counter, dry it, spread some butter on it and then pour out the toffee to make a smooth layer, about 1/4 inch thick. Dad would then quickly shape it into a rectangle and – with the precision of an engineer, cut diamond shapes out of the toffee, I don’t have this precision either – mine are more rustic). 

In a heavy bottomed pot, add the sugar, milk, cream, 2 tbsp. butter, and coconut on medium heat
Once the sugar has melted and the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low
Have your candy thermometer ready – stick it into the pan, clipping it onto the side – make sure the tip isn’t touching the bottom of the pot
Stir the mixture every few minutes to ensure it isn’t sticking or starting to burn
When the temperature gets around 220F, do not leave the pot, just keep stirring
It will get to 235F in no time at all and will immediately start to caramelize (burn past this point)
Remove from the fire, stir – add the essence/extract
Dip the bamboo skewer in the red gel, stir whatever has stuck to the skewer into the toffee, set aside the skewer – use the big spoon to ensure it is uniformly mixed
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish – immediately, with a sharp knife (edge sprayed or buttered) trace out vertical lines about 1″ apart, then diagonal lines – you want to end up with diamond shaped pieces of toffee
I have granite counters which are excellent for this so I did scrub and butter them in preparation for the hot toffee mixture. I used some wax paper which I also buttered to lay over the toffee before taking a rolling pin to the surface – rolled it to 1/4″ thickness, scored it, let it cool
Once cooled, using a very sharp Chef’s knife or a pizza wheel slicer, go over the scored markings to cut through the toffee and get the diamond shapes
Use the offset spatula to remove the pieces from counter to airtight storage container
Store in a cool spot – basement, cold cellar, fridge until finished.

I know it seems like a lot of instruction, but it really is just giving you the tips and tricks you need to know. Nothing mysterious about this sweet, just delicious taste and wonderful memories.  As always – enjoy!

Coconut Toffee on the Counter