Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I have to admit, I’m well beyond drinking cheap green beer from plastic cups. I never much enjoyed crap beer anyway. In college, my friends and I would save our pennies for a pint of two of Guinness. Sure the corner bar had $1.50 pitchers of Coors Light every night but when we could, we’d spring for $4 pints of the good stuff. Really. These days my festivities turn more to good beer or Irish whiskey, old friends and delicious food. It is still just as fun if different in tone and I still enjoy a nice pint of Guinness. Which is, believe it or not, is a lot easier on your system than cheap, skunky, questionably colored beer. True story (in my inexpert but experienced opinion).
Ever year about this time, the interwebs are filled with seasonal themed green dyed food. Like colored beer, I am not a fan of this approach. If I’m coming up with some St. Patrick’s Day vittles, I’d rather work with Irish whiskey and beer or spins on traditional dishes and ingredients. Green dye should be left to the Chicago River. I’m not opposed to going off in surprising directions. I mean really now, I’ve posted about Reuben Knishes in the past. Mock if you like but they were delicious and decidedly not green.
So I took another crack at a recipe I’ve been sort of working on for a few years, a toffee infused with Guinness Stout. I could never quite get it right, to the point where the stout flavor shone through. This year I nailed it on the first try. Makes me wonder what I’d been doing all those previous times. The secret, if I can even call it that, is to take a 16-ounce bottle of Guinness, one of those big bottles that you can buy as a single, and reduce it down to ½ cup. Concentrate that delicious peaty, earthiness into 4 ounces of highly flavored elixir. It gives the toffee a deep roundness with just a touch of pleasant bitterness. To make it more interesting, I add some crushed pretzels, a nice hit of salt and coat one side in chocolate. Green beer be damned, this stuff is great.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: CHEERS!! There’s no other way around it, this stuff is good. It’s festive, holiday appropriate and will impress the hell out of your drunk friends. Toffee, while typically good, is usually more on the sweet side. The dose of reduced Guinness adds just the nice counterpoint, balancing out the sweetness. The pretzel and salt brings it right over the top. And then to gild it with chocolate? Get outta here.
other St. Patrick’s Day appropriate recipes: Irish Soda Bread, Soda Bread Tarte Tatin, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom Boxty, Brown Bread Ice Cream, Irish Oatmeal Pudding, Irish Whiskey Cakes
seven years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
six years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers
five years ago: Guinness Stout Floats
four years ago: Corned Beef & Potato Cakes
three years ago: Reuben Knishes
two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
last year: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
GUINNESS PRETZEL TOFFEE
Makes about 1 ½ pounds
The easiest way to keep track of the reducing beer is to measure a ½ cup into your saucepan, insert a wooden chopstick and mark off the level of the beer. Then pour the bottle in and use that chopstick marker to track when you’ve hit ½ cup.
1 16-ounce bottle Guinness Stout
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup coarsely crushed pretzels (about 2 ½ ounces)
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- In a small saucepan, bring the Guinness to a boil; reduce the heat to medium-low and maintaining a low boil, reduce to ½ cup. Be careful as it has a tendency to boil up and over.
- Line 9”x13” pan with foil; set aside.
- In medium bowl, melt chocolate over double boiler set over simmering water or in microwave in 45 second bursts at 50% power, stirring between bursts until smooth.
- Spread melted chocolate evenly on bottom of prepared pan.
- sprinkle with the flaky sea salt and top with the crushed pretzels. Chill until needed.
- In heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, corn syrup, sugar and reduced Guinness, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves.
- Continue stirring until mixture becomes golden brown and a candy thermometer reaches 300°F (hard crack); once the mixture hits 230°F it will take about 4-5 minutes.
- Working quickly, remove the pan from the refrigerator and pour the toffee mixture over the chocolate/pretzels as evenly as you can given that you’re working with molten sugar. Be careful.
- With an offset spatula, quickly smooth toffee mixture to an even layer.
- Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate until chocolate is firm.
- Cut or break into pieces. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.