Saturday, November 1, 2014

Rebecca's Heath Bars

Thus proving I really will try anything once in the name of the blog.

When my parents moved my sister back into college, they stopped by the Wilbur Chocolate Factory in Lititz, Pennsylvania and stumbled upon an interesting cookbook. As people often do since I started this blog, they brought it home with them to give me as potential inspiration for a future blog post, and considering this one is all about how to make your very own versions of popular candy bars, I knew Halloween was the perfect holiday to break it out.

Now I know it's technically November now, and Halloween was yesterday, but considering this was how I spent my Halloween, I'm not going to apologize for posting it off season. I'm also putting this out there right away: this was a lot of effort for a tasty treat, and I'm not sorry I made it... but if you want a heath bar, it's probably easiest if you just go out and buy one at the store. I'm not sure how much sense it actually made to try recreating a candy bar you can just go out and purchase!

Still, it was an interesting thing to make, and I'm excited to share the experience with you all.

There are recipes for just about every candy bar imaginable in here, including one of my personal favorites: the Take Five Bar! But after a lot of consideration, I decided the Heath Bar might be an interesting recipe to try out, mostly because it was one of the first commercially sold chocolate bars in the United States, even though it took a while for them to find a nationwide audience. Heath Bars trace their history back to 1915, when the Heath Brothers acquired a recipe for toffee from a traveling sales man. They perfected the recipe in 1928, and the bars originally contained almonds as well as chocolate and toffee. I'm not sure when the almonds got the axe, but this recipe included them!

I didn't take a ton of pictures during the cooking process - I was flying a little solo on this one, and since the toffee requires constant attention so you don't accidentally burn it or let the whole thing boil over, I didn't want to take the risk of pausing too long for a good photo while it cooked and then need to start all over again when I set the kitchen on fire. You cook 1 cup of butter, 1 1/3 cups of sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup on the stove until everything melts and boils. Put in a candy thermometer and cook the mixture until it reaches 300 degrees, stirring constantly and reducing the heat if it looks like it's going to boil over.

Seriously, you don't want to let this boil over. It'll make a huge mess.

It took a while for the toffee to get to the right temperature, and as I'd never made it before, I wasn't really sure how long it actually was going to take. A friend of mine in high school used to make toffee fairly frequently, and while I was making it, I was sort of wishing I'd paid more attention when she'd made it back then! It got very bubbly and kind of fluffy pretty quickly, and gradually became a darker, more toffee color. I actually almost didn't realize it was finally at the right temperature until I started smelling something burning, and then panicked when I realized the thermometer was actually slightly over three hundred degrees.

The toffee gets poured into a prepared 9 x 9 (or 8 x 8 in our case) baking dish with buttered aluminum foil covering the bottom and sides. Let it cool for one to two minutes, and then try running a very sharp knife through the toffee to score it. If it immediately fills the cuts, the toffee is too hot, so you should try again in about thirty seconds.

This is definitely something you need to watch like a hawk. I thought mine was still too hot and left it alone for about thirty more seconds, and by the time I went to make the cuts going in the other direction, the toffee was way too hard to cut.

So my Heath Bars looked a little... rustic.

Next, you needed to get out a wire rack, put a piece of wax paper under it, and spray the whole thing with cooking spray. Seriously, don't skimp on this, I promise it's a bad idea to skimp on the cooking spray.

The chocolate is 1 1/2 cups of milk chocolate chips and 3/4 cups of dark chocolate chips melted in the microwave and mixed together with 2 teaspoons of vegetable shortening. Once they're covered on the toffee, sprinkle the almonds on top and you're almost good to go!

This was actually the hardest part of the assembly or cooking process. The toffee is time consuming, but drizzling the chocolate over the bars evenly and making sure each surface is covered required a lot of man handling on my part, and I looked like a bit of a mess afterward.

For the record, I was a Starfleet officer for the fifth year in a row.

The shortening makes the chocolate really silky, but also surprisingly difficult to get off of your hands, out of your clothes or off pots and pans, so there was a lot of clean up involved.

The bars need to dry for about one to two hours, but even after letting them sit out over night, the chocolate feels a lot softer than the store bought candy bars. It took a lot of effort to pry some of them off the write rack, too - the chocolate really glued them on there pretty well, even with cooking spray.

They also are a lot thicker than a store bought heath bar, and a bit messier looking, but they don't look completely hideous or unappetizing, so I'm willing to call this one a win.

I won't lie, the first one I took a bite out of, I felt like I was breaking my teeth. Admittedly, at that point, I hadn't eaten anything with toffee in it in probably five or so years, so I'd maybe forgotten just what the texture was like, and had also already been eating lots of sugary things for most of the rest of the night, so it's entirely possible my teeth were just panicking a bit about the abuse I was putting them through. The piece I had this afternoon was a lot less rough on my teeth and jaws, and my mom said it didn't hurt to take a bite of hers, either, which was good to hear. I don't want to be sending anyone to the dentist to fix a broken tooth!

(I've also always been sensitive about teeth issues - a close family friend is an orthodontist, and I've always felt vaguely guilty wrecking my teeth beyond just not wanting a pair of dentures at age 23.)

The bars were tasty. I don't love toffee more than anything else - my favorite candy bars are actually probably Kit-Kats or the aforementioned Take Five bar - and I mostly picked this recipe because it's an older candy bar, but it was still fun to try something different. I guess the downside is that I don't love them enough to want to necessarily make the effort of creating one from scratch again. Toffee by itself? Maybe, or maybe it might be fun to work into another recipe, but I think for now, I've had my fill of this particular treat for a while.

Overall, it was a fun thing to try and I'm still curious about some of the other recipes in here, but candy is super time consuming, messy and ultimately a little dissatisfying when you know you can just go to the grocery store and get a factory made one with much less clean up involved.

I guess this is why you never see people recreating Heath Bars on Chopped...


  1. Oooo. I wonder if I can make these with white chocolate! I'm always looking for ways to make Deth products without Deth.

    1. I'm pretty sure that would work! I just used normal chocolate chips, so it's not like there was anything specific or fancy about what kind of chocolate it had to be. :|a

  2. Very cool post! I'd never really considered making candybars in the comfort of my own home. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'd never really thought of it either before getting the cookbook, but since doing it I've seen a bunch of recipes for it! A lot of them have actually been vegan which was kind of cool, since I guess it's a bummer to need to give up your favorite candy bars when you decide to adopt that lifestyle.