Saltine toffee

Life of the party: Saltine toffee is crazy delicious, and ridiculously easy to put together. (Photo by Bill Hogan)

The holidays call for the holiday party, and the holiday party calls for toffee. The imported sort, coated with dark chocolate and dusted with praline.

And the domestic sort, compiled from saltine and chocolate chip.

Saltine toffee is crazy delicious, and ridiculously easy to put together. There's something thrillingly Cinderella about the whole enterprise: the lowly soup cracker, exalted to party confection.

The secret ingredient is too compelling for actual secrecy. The hostess allows her guest one bite before shrieking: Turn it over! There, suspended in butter and brown sugar, floats the familiar hole-pocked saltine. Smiling.

The saltine doesn't merely serve as thrifty butter extender, as handy where's-the-thermometer crispiness insurance. The soda cracker offers light layers and irresistible salt crunch to play off the buttery sweet.

It's not the sole cracker up to the task. In spring, many a hostess retrofits her Christmas toffee for Passover duty by substituting matzoh.

The technique works equally well with the rice cracker and the pita chip (and likely the boxes they came in — what, submerged in butter and slathered in chocolate, doesn't emerge improved?).

The hostess arranges her toffees on a platter, admiring the way the crackers of many backgrounds happily coexist.

In this season, as in all seasons, she longs for peace on earth. Surely a good place to start is a recipe eager to celebrate all traditions.

Saltine toffee

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Makes: 36 pieces

Ingredients:
1 cup butter
35 saltine crackers
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 package (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Organize:
Line a 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, allowing for some overhang. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Brush parchment with a little butter. Line up crackers on buttered parchment, touching but not overlapping.

Thicken:
Whisk brown sugar into remaining butter. Set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; boil thick, 2 minutes (or 248 degrees). Pour evenly over crackers.

Bake:
Slide into a 400-degree oven and bake until brown and bubbly, 10 minutes. Carefully remove from oven.

Gild:
Scatter molten surface with chocolate chips. Let melt, 5 minutes. Use an offset spatula to spread chocolate. Cast on nuts; gently press into chocolate. Freeze until firm, 30 minutes.

Cut:
Lift parchment by its overhang, and set toffee (paper and all) on a cutting surface. Slice into 18 squares, then into 36 triangles.

Remove:
Take these to a party. Otherwise, you risk toffee overload.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor. Contact her at leahreskin@aol.com