3 cups sugar, divided
1 cup half-and-half
Â¼ cup water
Â¼ teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Â½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound pecans, toasted, coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)
Butter 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan. Combine 2 cups sugar and half-and-half in heavy large saucepan. Stir occasionally over low heat until sugar dissolves. Set aside.
Bring remaining 1 cup sugar and Â¼ cup water to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; continue boiling without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, brushing sides of pan with wet brush and swirling pan, about 8 minutes.
Immediately pour caramel syrup into half-and-half mixture in large saucepan (mixture will bubble). Stir constantly over medium-low heat until caramel dissolves. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat to medium. Continue cooking and stirring until mixture registers 244 degrees, about 12 minutes.
Remove from heat and immediately stir in baking soda (mixture will foam slightly). Add butter and stir to melt.
Let stand without stirring until mixture cools to 160 degrees, about 20 minutes.
Mix in vanilla. Using large wooden spoon, stir constantly until candy begins to thicken and loses its gloss, 4 to 5 minutes. Mix in nuts (candy will be very stiff). Scrape candy into prepared pan.
Using wet fingertips, press candy firmly into pan. Cool completely, then cut into 30 squares.
Cook's notes: The original recipe suggested milk or cream and half the nuts of more recent versions. The Bon Appetit version uses Â¼ cup of water to facilitate the melting of the sugar, calling for it to cook until it is the color of â€œdeep amber.â€ Aunt Susan's cookbook â€œHow to Cookâ€ suggests melting sugar only, to a color of â€œlight brown sugar syrup.â€
Source: Molly Wizenberg for Bon Appetit from a recipe by The Oklahoman's Susan Elliott, who adapted it from Aunt Bill.