The Ultimate Swedish Knäck, a Toffee Based Christmas Confectionery

So what exactly is an “Ultimate” recipe? No, it is not an annoying clickbait with hollow content. What I mean when I say “Ultimate” is that this recipe has been analyzed and matched with certain attributes that I want to achieve, adjusted according to food science principles, experimented on and finally blind tested and compared. Not a simple task, especially if the food has many different components all interacting with each other. But for me it is worth all the extra trouble, just to be able to boast that you have the world’s greatest recipe for something! Below you can read more about how this recipe came into being, but if you just want to start cooking you can scroll down to the bottom of the post for the recipe.

As for this particular recipe I gathered six different recipes around the net and from a few cook books. There are some flavored varieties, but I wanted that classic Knäck characteristics. It is a fairly simple task to use it as a base and season it yourself with ginger, cacao, licorice or whatever spice you fancy. The attributes I wanted to enhance were:

  • A firm, but elastic consistency. You are supposed to sink your teeth into it without breaking them in the process.
  • Very mouthwatering when put in the mouth.
  • It should stick to the wrapper and to your teeth as little as possible
  • Rich toffee flavor.

The recipes were put in an Excel spreadsheet, converted to weight for better precision and then converted into percentage values to be more easily compared. After this the fat content, sugar content and sugar/golden syrup ratio is calculated and compared.

The easiest part was to enhance my desired consistency characteristics. Toffee gets harder the higher temperature it is cooked to. Traditional Swedish Knäck is cooked to between 120 and 125°C, so naturally I picked the highest temperature 125°C. This also helps the Knäck not stick to the wrapper.

All kinds of toffee brings out an incredible mouthwatering sensation, and this is partly because of all the fat globules from the butter encapsulated inside the toffee. This meant I chose recipes with the highest fat content as my base, but this was also something I had to experiment on. From experience I know that a higher fat content does not automatically produce a better result, even though many chefs seem to think so. It is however important to use real butter and not margarine. This is because butter produces very complex, nutty and caramelized flavor components which are desirable in Knäck, and in all toffee really. It also has a lower melting point in the mouth than margarine. This gives a more rapid flavor release, and it does not stick to your palate.

The final characteristic to enhance is the toffee flavor itself. As previously explained butter plays a very important role here, and also the milk protein from the cream. The protein is browned during the cooking process by something called the Maillard reaction, which maybe I will explain in more detail in another post. Simply put it is why your beef is browned when seared, and together with the caramelized sugar they produce the desirable flavor we are after in the Knäck. So what is a better way to enhance this flavor than by adding salt! Salt is a common ingredient in many toffees. It is an excellent flavor enhancer in general and it balances up the extreme sweetness of the toffee. The thing is that it is never used in any recipes of traditional Swedish Knäck. Perhaps we are missing out on something?

So after tweaking the numbers a bit I came up with three recipes to try. One with baking powder and breadcrumbs in addition to the almond, one with a higher fat content, more golden syrup vs. sugar and also seasoned with liquid honey, and one with the same ingredients as the first one but with salt and without the breadcrumbs and baking powder. The reason for the first one was that a few of the older recipes had these ingredients. The breadcrumbs were according to these both added as a cheaper substitute for more expensive ingredients, but also to make it less sticky to your teeth. The baking powder will, according to food science literature, neutralize some of the subtle acids produced while cooking which results in a slightly different flavor.

Finally the results were tested on friends and family – seven people, both children and adults. They did not know which of the three varieties they were tasting. Each person evaluated the samples, and notes were taken. They also rated the sample on a scale between 1-10 where 10 is the best.

The first recipe received a mean value of 6,7, the second 7,2 and the third one 8,7. Given the high rating for the third recipe as well as the comments of it being the most mouthwatering, had a greater flavor intensity and were more balanced in its flavor it was clear that salt and Knäck was a winning combination. And apparently breadcrumbs actually will make it less sticky to your teeth, but it also leaves an unpleasant sensation of sawdust left in your mouth. Not worth it! Adding more golden syrup instead of sugar produces a different chewing consistency, more porous. Not exactly like fudge, but leaning towards that direction. This is not necessarily bad, but it was not what I was looking for.

Most people would probably settle for the recipe with salt added. Not me! I made two more variations of the recipe – one with 50/50 brown and white sugar, and one where I had caramelized the butter before adding it. Both varieties meant to bring fourth the toffee flavor in a better way. Turns out that browning the butter beforehand did close to nothing. Adding brown sugar on the other hand resulted in a deeper toffee flavor, but was a tad bit much so as a final touch I am readjusting it to a 80/20 proportion.

So here it goes! My Ultimate Knäck recipe – Enjoy!

 

The Ultimate Swedish Knäck – Around 50 Pieces

Ingredients:

38 g butter, unsalted
190 g cream (I use a 40% variety)
152 g caster sugar
38 g raw sugar
266 g golden syrup
9 g salt
57 g almond (scalded, peeled and finely chopped)

Directions:

Add all the ingredients except for the almond in a saucepan. Bring up to a gentle boil and continue boiling until the mixture reaches 125°C. This should take around 30-40 minutes. Remove from the hob and add the chopped almonds. Work quickly before the mixture gets too cold to fill appropriately sized wrappers, please see picture. I find it is easiest filling the wrappers by using two teaspoons. Store in the fridge. When cold they are much harder than when room tempered. Personally I like them best when still slightly chilled!

Swedish Christmas Bread with Wort aka Vörtbröd
Homemade Nutella
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  • Bernt Dahlgren

    I’m impressed by the scientific explanation of how knäck should taste. I might even be tempted to buy a proper food scale and try the recipe.
    Pappa Bernt

    • Thank you! You do that, a digital scale is absolutely indispensable in the kitchen if you want a good result every time. Especially when baking. Let me know how it goes!