They said no. It was the first thing I'd asked my boyfriend's parents for, and I'd thought of it as a rhetorical requestmore a compliment than a question. Surely they wanted to share the special English toffee recipe I had so nicely expressed admiration for? I was spending Christmas at their house in Massachusetts, for the first time, and I was anxious to make a good impression. So were they. We all seemed to be succeedingat least until that moment.
"It's my special thing," my boyfriend's father said. "What would I have without toffee?" he jokedor at least I thought he was joking. I waited for him to tell me he wasn't serious. But he didn't.
Besides feeling hurt and confused, I was piqued; I actually wanted the recipe. Toffee draws on two qualities not usually associated with baking triumphs: It is burnt and it is broken. What makes toffee truly memorable is the way the butter and sugar (or maybe just the sugar) have been boiled past the point of pure sweetness. There's a fairy-tale surprise to the first taste of the shattered sugar. It's not bitter, certainly, but it carries the slightest suggestion of wintry darkness, like the walls of the witch's cottage.