Saturday, June 6, 2009

Horse-drawn Golf Cart and Butter Toffee

June 6, 09

In the Straits of Mackinac that separates Michigan's Upper from Lower Peninsula and connecting Lakes Michigan and Huron, there is an island, Mackinac Island, on which motorized traffic is prohibited. People and things are moved by foot, bicycle, or horse. Taxis, drays, manure and tour wagons are drawn by teams of Belgian and Percheron draft horses, most of which are stabled by one organization.

Several years ago, I took on a job with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, and worked 12 to 14 hour shifts, seven days a week in the big barn mucking out tie stalls, helping harness and hitch up teams, stacking and dispersing hay, and driving the manure wagons to the centralized composting facility.

Toward the end of the season, I spent my days driving a two horse team for the golf shuttle. There is an 18 hole golf course on the island. The lower 9 holes are across from the Grand Hotel, and the upper 9 holes are 20 minutes away by carriage.

One of the things that the island is famous for is its candy... Mackinac Island Fudge... salt water taffy... and English Toffee. All are made there on the island, and are considered by many to be exceptional. Personally, I can take or leave the fudge and taffy. But the English Toffee is to die for. I had to quit the job while I still had money in my pockets and before I rotted my teeth entirely away. I'll never forget that stuff. Pure manna.

Then a few years ago, my wife took me into a local shop in Crandon that imported llama wool clothing from South America. It was the Christmas season, and the owner had placed out a plate of toffee that she had made herself for her customers . I took one piece. Then discretely took another. Then blatantly another and another. It was as good, if not better, than the Mackinac Island version. I told the owner, Barb, that I had to have the recipe.

"Riiight. I'm glad you enjoy it."

"No, I'm serious. If I don't get it, I'm going to forbid my wife from purchasing this ever mounting pile of sweaters, scarves, and mittens."

"Riiight. I know Deb. All I can say is you can try to stop her."

"Aw. Pleeeez? I need that recipe."

"Do you really cook?"

"Well, yeah! I can't live on the frozen pizzas that Deb cooks."

Finally, Deb, overhearing our exchange, came over. "Oh, he's serious all right. He was a scientist. You can't be a scientist without knowing how to experiment in the lab and in the kitchen."

So I got the secret recipe, which she had committed to memory, and have made the stuff periodically ever since.

And only because I know what special people bloggers tend to be, I share that secret here with you. Warning: Do not make this for friends and relatives on a diet (unless you are in a weight loss contest with them).

Barb's La Llama Butter Toffee
  • Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking sheet.
  • Combine 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) real butter, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, and 6 Tbsp. water in a saucepan.
  • Stirring constantly, slowly bring the mixture to a boil, and continue until a candy thermometer reads 300 F.
  • Stir in some chopped almonds, if desired.
  • Pour onto the prepared baking sheet.
  • Sprinkle the hot mix with milk chocolate chips and spread around as it melts.
  • Add more chopped almonds as topping, if desired.
  • Let cool and break into portions.
Even though this is poured into one large flat piece, and later broken apart, when hubby or kids ask for "a piece of that toffee" you will find that you have to explain that one of those shards compromises a portion, not the whole original one piece puddle. Also, do not send friends home in a car with an unsealed, open container of this stuff, or it will never make it home. Let me know what you think.


  1. I will put this away for another time. Alas, I am working on those last 10 lbs. and I fear this recipe will not be helpful. My kids though will be thrilled to try it out towards the holidays when as we know there is a two week no weight gain grace period. ;)

  2. Great post - thanks so much for including the recipe. I am going to follow you too, ok? Peace for all

  3. Thank you so much about the fruit tree netting idea. My husband and I are going to look into it.

  4. i read this and ran to the kitchen to make it. do i have the ingredients correct? is it one cup sugar to 2 sticks butter? it is cooling as i type but there is a lot of butter floating around on it. also, it started to burn at the very end. have you experienced this?

  5. jaz. Yup. 2 sticks of butter and one cup of sugar. I like butter. My wife doesn't quite as much, so she will use oil or spray on the baking sheet instead. You could always try cutting down on the butter some. The toffee does turn brown at the end. It is not burnt, though. Be sure that you keep stirring it. Don't let it set on the heat by itself or it will burn. Let me know how you and yours like it. Thanks for giving it a try.

  6. I love toffee and I will surely give this one a try more towards winter when I start on the candy phase of my cooking. lol. I was wondering if you would mind if I would post this recipe on my recipe page of my site, I will of course give you the credit and link your blog to the recipe. Let me know if this is alright?! If it is I won't post it until I've made it ... like I said some time at the end of summer after harvest. In any case Thank You for sharing.

  7. Snowbound. Sure. Feel free to post the recipe on your site. The toffee makes nice gifts for neighbors for Christmas. Note that it has to reach that 300 degree mark, or it won't harden.

  8. I think I saw a segment on Dirty Jobs or some other show about that island. How neat, a horse drawn golf cart. That would get me to go play a round of golf with my husband! (who complains I never go)

  9. Wow. I was going to start being more careful about what I ate. Maybe I should make this toffee first. Thought I think my pancreas is already starting to hate me.

    I love Mackinac Island. I spent a day there and loved it. I think the key to surviving there on a budget is to bring your own bike.

  10. the toffee was such a huge hit that as soon as i am done typing this i am making more. do you ever double batches and if so does it change anything? also, do you ever add vanilla? thanks...joyce

  11. ok...i'm back. i just made anther batch. this takes like no time at all! but i have more questions???? what color is your toffee when it is finished? yesterday's batch was dark brown. i am thinking it was a bit over cooked. today's is caramel colored. today i noticed it starts to change color right around 250 degrees. today it also suddenly shot over 300 so quick that i had to take a second look to believe i was reading it right. it is cooling so i won't know how it turns out for a while. how high is the heat you cook it over? i am cooking on a gas range and today i set it on medium high. yesterday i cooked it over medium. sorry for all the questions but for the right toffee....well, you know what i mean! more! do you ever refrigerate it to cool it off?

  12. jaz. I'm glad that you made a hit with the toffee. We have never doubled the batches. It should work, though. We have never added vanilla either. I don't know how that would work with the temperature so high. Most vanilla is alcohol based. Experiment, though. I'd be curious to know whether there is any way to improve something that is already so darned delectable. Our toffee is caramel colored when done. The temp does shoot up at the end as you say. We also cook on a propane range (no natural gas out in the country), and if anything, I will turn the heat up at first, then turn it down toward the end so that it doesn't overshoot. We've always let it cool at room temperature (which on some days this winter felt like being in a refrigerator). Good luck. When you go into production, this stuff sells like hotcakes at farmer's markets, bake sales, etc.

  13. ah it should be caramel colored. i bet i overcooked it yesterday even though it never went over 300. hmmmm...candy can be tricky. i'll let you know how todays comes out. i am not much of a candy eater but my husband and kids are so they can judge today's compared to tomorrow's. a dirty job but someone has to do it! joyce

  14. i guess tht should have read....yesterday's! i tried the new batch and YES!!!! this is the way it should be. i just tagged you. i really like your blog a lot. when i have time i will come back and start reading through the old posts. that is the cutest goat picture ever! do you follow any of the other goat blogs? i have a few favorites. your goat picture is the best of all of them. you might want to check out my blog too. i have some recipes you night like to try! joyce

  15. Mmm....I love toffee and will have to try this.

    Maybe sometime you can write more about your experiences working at Mackinac Island....I've always been interested in hearing more about that place.