Why does toffee separate?

My toffee failed. The butter separated out from the sugar. I used to make this as a kid and never had a problem. Could my gas burner or le creuset pan be the culprit?



Anne S. December 21, 2020
I’ve never had toffee fail, until today. I’d also never had caramels fail until 3 years ago. Both separated, just as you explained. I read the comments carefully, and tried again. Nope, another failure. The only consistent change was from my moms old pressure cooker pan (early 50s), to a new All-Clad d5 pan 3 years ago, and I’d tried a silicone spoon to stir.
The old antique pan finally broke, so the All-Clad just failed again with a wood spoon. I’m now switching to a Scan Pan. I’ll see how this batch goes, ugh.
Sandy December 9, 2022
Sometimes it's the butter. You must use real sweet cream butter. I've found that many times.
suzy P. May 19, 2016
You can rescue it, too. Just add water and sugar and start over.
Andrew S. October 11, 2012
Hi I am sorry to hear that about your toffee, I know it can be frustrating. The biggest reason that happens is the gas, or hear source, is too high. Place the heat at about 70% and try it that way, also it could be the ration of fat to sugar. Try equal parts butter and sugar ( one pound each and 3/4 teaspoon of salt) and cook it on medium high heat until nice and brown, smoking slightly. Pour on a non stick mat and score when it has cooled a little. Dip in untempered(melted and cooled) milk chocolate and cover in chopped toasted almonds. Sounds like you are just a little rusty, practice makes perfect and you need to nail this as the holidays are rapidly approaching! JK, I hope this helps!
Nomnomnom October 12, 2012
Andrew, thanks for all these great tips. food52ers are amazing. Yup, you have me pegged. I have to fix this before the holidays! Am thinking that my butter has a higher fat content now than the stuff I used to buy. Also the sugar is different and the gas burner gets hot faster than my old electric stove. And the le creuset pan store heat likes nobody's business. Funny thing is that I turned the heat way down, so it wouldn't overheat. Meh. Will try it again! Thanks for all the advice.
HalfPint October 11, 2012
Nomnomnom, make sure that your heat is not too high either. It too can also cause the butter to separate out because it causes the water to evaporate too quickly from the mixture. Here's a good website for troubleshooting toffee:
Nomnomnom October 12, 2012
Thanks, HalfPint. I checked baking911 and there is a lot of good information there. It's just odd that my old recipe no longer works. I think the butter I am using now has a higher fat:water ratio and the gas stove burns at a higher temp. Will give it another go!
Sandy December 9, 2022
Yes, many times it's the butter we buy. Unfortunately, there is butter and there is good butter. Read ingredients and heat of course lower it most times.
Dona October 11, 2012
I have made 25 pounds of toffee this week. I let the mixture reach 240 degrees before I stir, this stir continually to 295.
Nomnomnom October 12, 2012
Thanks, Dona!
HalfPint October 11, 2012
Might have stirred too much. I find that once the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil, I stop stirring. I know a lot of recipes says to stir constantly, but it's been found that this causes the the sugar mixture to separate. And that was my early experience with making butter crunch toffee. I couldn't understand why the butter was separating out. So on my 5th try I stopped stirring at ~200F, and left the sugar mixture boil to the soft crack stage, did not touch it at all, and voila, perfect toffee. And I make a toffee so good, my friends call it "crack" ;)
Nomnomnom October 11, 2012
Thank you, HalfPint. I will definitely try your suggestion. Homemade toffee is addictive! :)
Recommended by Food52