For the love of toffee

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Erica Simon (left) and husband Matt Faatz (right) work on another batch of toffee in their Keizer home. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

As college students, Erica Simon and Matt Faatz started making toffee 22 years ago as a cheaper alternative to exchanging gifts.

Back then, the list of people they were making toffee for was limited to nine friends and family.

By Christmas 2011, the list had grown to 200 and they were up to their elbows in the best sugar, butter, almonds and chocolate they could find.

“We just never had the heart to take anyone off the list,” Simon said.

The couple had friends and colleagues urging them to start producing even larger quantities for sale, but it wasn’t until earlier this year they started making that turn. Still, it was difficult.

“Making it for friends and family was one thing, back when it was fun and relaxing,” said Faatz, his eyes growing wider at the thought. “When you produce it for selling to somebody you have to meet a self-set exacting standard. When customers taste that product, you’re telling them that this is your best product and we have to do our best. The bags of toffee are like little ambassadors.”

The five flavors they produce-milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, coffee bean, and coconut–are available locally at Jones Farm Produce, Kiki B’s O’hana Salon, and Cosmos Deja Vu in Salem, and through their website, www.brokentoptoffee.com.

The recipe they use for the caramelized confection was originally intended for almond roca. Simon was working as a barista in college and a customer passed it along to her. She tweaked it and came up with the toffee recipe.

“The customer was adamant that you had to use real butter, not margarine, so when I started playing with it I made sure I was only using the best ingredients,” she said.

The result is toffee that is a delightful mix of crunchy and chewy without feeling like it’s sticking to your teeth.

Since those humble beginnings, Simon and Faatz have been trading ideas for new flavors and testing them out on friends and co-workers who are all too willing to take part in market research.

One year, Faatz decided he wanted to try a coffee toffee and the couple went through multiple roasts and blends to achieve the current balance. It’s been their biggest hit with the 20- and 30-somethings. Coconut is their latest addition to the line-up with coconut and coconut milk inside the toffee mixture and a white chocolate outer layer covered in roasted coconut.

As they began entertaining the idea of expanding, Faatz and Simon secured a commercial kitchen license for their home and began putting out feelers for potential buyers.

Over the summer, they submitted samples to Powell’s Books in Portland and were selected for inclusion in the store’s monthly book club. Bags of Broken Top Toffee were included in boxes sent to the club subscribers and that generated another wave of interest. They had to produce 1,600 bags of toffee in about four weeks to meet the order.

“It takes about eight half-sheet pans of toffee to produce 100 bags, so it was about 130 pans of toffee that month,” Simon said.

They received several e-mails from Powell’s customers asking how and where they could get more.

“They ask, ‘what else do you have?’ We got this amazing e-mail from a woman in the UK who is trying to figure out how we can get more to her,” Simon said.

While they had a fairly good handle on the production process going into it, they now function like a well-oiled machine in the kitchen. Faatz bags completed toffee while waiting for Simon who tends to the caramelizing sugar and butter on the stove top. Once it reaches the right temperature, she pours it into two pans and both work to spread it out with spatulas and score it with a six-wheeled pastry cutter. After it cools they apply the chocolate. It takes about two hours to produce a double batch from start to finish and they usually have two double batches going at one time.

“The best part is working with the chocolate and it’s poured on at just the right temperature. You spread it on and you’ve got this beautiful, shiny toffee,” Simon said.

“Once it’s finished, you feel a bit like an artist,” Faatz said.

The couple’s three boys, Daniel, David and Drew, help out when they can.

Both Faatz and Simon are teachers in the Salem-Keizer School District with retirement still slightly beyond their grasp, but Broken Top Toffee has them thinking about what might be possible when that life change comes.

“It feels good to make a product that, when people taste it, they say they’ve never had anything better,” Faatz said. “I feel very humbled when I hear that because we have put a lot of work into it.”

“We have all kinds of flavors in mind, but you have to balance being a teacher and a wife and mother and making the toffee,” Simon said.

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