Pretzel Christmas crack: this buttery, crisp and brittle toffee is absolutely delectable and while this is often made using saltine crackers, I went a different route and chose pretzels and it’s seriously the best toffee ever!
Known by so many names like butter toffee, Christmas crack, cracker toffee, saltine cracker toffee and toffee bark for instance, it’s most often made with crackers coated in toffee then topped with chocolate and sometimes nuts.
There are a few schools of thought as to where the name comes from; one being its addictive nature because it’s so incredibly morish. However, I prefer to think of it as the way the brittle, crunchy toffee cracks in your mouth, or how you crack it up into pieces to serve, or the simple fact that in its original form, it’s made with crackers.
I make my pretzel Christmas crack recipe using the same method as I use for my homemade almond roca. The butter toffee itself is essentially the same thing just with different add-ins.
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Ingredients you’ll need
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Butter: You want unsalted butter for this recipe. You can use salted butter but leave out the extra salt called for in the recipe.
- Brown sugar: You can use white granulated sugar but brown sugar gives a gorgeous toffee colour and just goes so beautifully with the butter.
- Pretzels: You want to use mini pretzels if you can get them. If not and you need to use larger ones, break them up quite a bit before measuring them out. The type of pretzels matters less than the space they fill. If you go by weight, you’ll get exactly what you need.
- Salt: To give the toffee balance, a little salt is added to the butter toffee mixture. If you enjoy sweet and salty treats, add some sea salt flakes to the top of the chocolate as well.
- Vanilla: Make sure to use vanilla extract as opposed to vanilla essence.
- Chocolate: You can use chocolate chips or block chocolate, finely chopped. I use a combination of dark chocolate chips (semi-sweet chocolate chips) and milk chocolate chips.
How to make Christmas crack
I use a slightly different method to the standard here for cracker toffee and use the stovetop instead of the oven as it gives a far superior result. I find the oven method sometimes makes the cracker toffee turn out chewy, whereas the stovetop method creates a smooth texture but the same perfect buttery crunch.
If you prefer the oven method, I give the details in the bottom of the recipe card. It may very well turn out perfectly. The reason it can be problematic is simply that it isn’t as precise. All ovens vary, so you won’t know if you toffee gets to the right temperature or goes beyond the hard crack stage. Err on the side of caution if you choose the oven method, and cook it for 5 minutes in there. If it turns out a little chewy in spots, you know to make it 6 minutes next time.
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan over low-medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it’s fully smooth and amalgamated, you can move on.
- Boil the butter toffee: Let the mixture come to a boil and let it continuously boil for around 8-10 minutes. A candy thermometer is your best friend here. They’re very cheap and it will give you a perfect result. Temperature details are in the recipe below.
- The add-ins: Stir in the pretzels, vanilla and salt then pour the whole lot into a 9×13 pan lined with baking paper.
- Chocolate: Scatter over the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate and let it sit and soften for a couple of minutes. Now spread the melted chocolate over to smooth it out with an offset spatula, or spoon).
Feel free to add more pretzels too. I like a higher ratio of toffee to pretzels and it’s one of the reasons I use pretzels over crackers, since the cracker version has more cracker with just enough toffee to coat them. But do what works for you. Adding more pretzels would mean putting it into a larger pan and lessening the sweetness a little. Two and a half cups of mini pretzels in a 10-15 pan would be the more traditional ratio and you’ll be better off pouring the toffee over the pretzels already in the pan if you choose this option.
Can I make it without a candy thermometer?
While using a candy thermometer will give you the best chance at perfect pretzel Christmas crack, there are two ways to make it without one just like with homemade caramel.
- Stovetop method #2: Make it the same way on the stovetop but have some ice cold water on hand. After 6-7 minutes of boiling, just drip a little of the toffee into the iced water and it should harden after 30 seconds to 1 minute. This is called hard crack stage and means it’s ready.
- Oven method: This is a little less precise since you won’t know if the toffee ever gets to hard crack temperature but you may get lucky and it’s perfect, and at the worst it’ll just have a few chewy spots and not be crunchy throughout. Melt the butter and sugar on the stove then bring it to a boil just like described in the recipe. Once boiling, let it boil for 3 minutes. Pour the toffee over the pretzels already in the pan, then very carefully place the pan into a 200C/400F oven for 5-6 minutes.
Tips and tricks
- Use high quality ingredients: There are very few ingredients in this pretzel cracker toffee so make sure to use very good quality ingredients.
- Be patient while it boils: Don’t try to rush the boiling step by turning up the heat or it just won’t work. Take the time and let it boil slowly.
- Experiment with toppings: I love a sprinkle of sea salt because I really love a salty-sweet treat but you can also try topping it with other ingredients like chopped walnuts or pecans, sprinkles, M&Ms or drizzle over some caramelised white chocolate for contrast.
- Let the pretzel Christmas crack cool completely before breaking up. I usually just let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two before breaking it up but you can also place it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Why did my toffee split?
It’s happened to the best of us. You’re carefully cooking your toffee or caramel and anticipating that first delicious bite once it’s set when all of a sudden the butter separates and you have a greasy mess with two different layers. No bueno!
The most common reason for toffee splitting is heating it too quickly or adjusting the temperature too quickly or too often. Humidity can also affect it, so if the humidity in your kitchen is higher on a particular day, you might have issues. Don’t worry though, you can prevent it and, in some cases, even fix it.
- Melt gently: Be sure to melt the sugar and butter together very slowly which gives them more time to fully bind together. Don’t be tempted to rush this step and make sure the sugar is dissolved before letting it come to a boil.
- To stir or not to stir: Stir the mixture pretty constantly while you’re trying to melt them together, then once it comes to a boil, stop stirring and let the bubbles do the work.
- Use a candy thermometer: A candy thermometer will not only tell you when you’ve reached the right temperature but it can also show you if the heat is changing abruptly.
- Use a heavy based saucepan: A pot with a heavy base distributes the heat more evenly so you won’t get really hot or cool parts in your toffee.
- Use a medium pan: A large pan will give the toffee too much room and allow it to heat too quickly. Again, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to toffee.
- Choose the coolest time of day: If your home is humid, choose the coolest time of day or first thing in the morning before you’ve used the oven etc.
How can I fix it?
If the mixture has split while still cooking, it’s possible to fix it. Just remove it from the heat and stir until it comes back together. Sometimes a tablespoon of very hot water can help too. Once it’s come back together, return it the heat and proceed per the recipe.
Unfortunately, if it splits after you’ve poured it into the pan, it’s beyond re-amalgamation but you can let it set, then use some paper towel to soak up any excess grease. Often-times it’s still quite good served as toffee but if it doesn’t quite have the flavour or texture, just crush it up and keep it for scattering over icecream or baking into cookies.
Not only does cracker toffee or, in this case, pretzel toffee, taste amazing, but this fun holiday treat is great for gifting. It can be made ahead but should always be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
As the chocolate heats so much sitting on top of the toffee, it’s not tempered meaning it will soften at room temperature. I think this tastes much better from the fridge anyway but if you want the chocolate to be more firm at room temperature, make sure to temper it.
You can also store it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Did you try this pretzel Christmas crack recipe?
Leaving a rating and comment below the recipe is so helpful!
- 1 ¼ cups light brown sugar (260g / 9oz)
- 226 g unsalted butter (1 cup / 2 sticks / 8oz)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups mini pretzel knots (or larger ones broken up) (130g / 4 ½ oz)
- 1 ½ cups chocolate chips (milk or dark/semi sweet) (270g / 9 ½ oz) (notes)
- Sprinkles or sea salt flakes
For best results, always weigh ingredients where a weight is provided
- Medium saucepan (deep and heavy-based)
- PREP: Line a 9×13 inch baking sheet / cake pan with baking paper sitting as flat as possible.
- Measure out all ingredients before you begin.
- PRETZELS: Crumble up roughly ⅓-½ of the mini pretzels. Set aside.
- Toffee can be finicky and if not done exactly correctly, may split with the butter splitting from the sugar. See my section, "Why did my toffee split?" if you notice any issues.
- MELT: Place the sugar and butter into a heavy based medium saucepan over low-medium heat and stir until it is fully melted and well combined. You don’t want it to look greasy or have butter floating around the edges. It should be fully incorporated.
- Stop stirring and let the mixture come to a bubble. Turn the heat up ever so slightly, closer to medium.
- LOW BOIL: Let it bubble away on a low boil stirring quite regularly so that it doesn't burn, for around 10-12 minutes until it reaches 145C / 295F on a candy thermometer (see notes). It should be a rich caramel brown colour.
- ADD INS: Remove from heat. Add the pretzels salt and vanilla and stir well to combine.
- INTO TIN: Pour straight into the prepared baking pan.
- THE CHOCOLATE: Scatter the chocolate chips over the top and let it sit for 2-3 minutes to soften before spreading it out with an offset spatula.
- Sprinkle over any sprinkles if using. If you’re topping with sea salt flakes, it’s better to add it after the chocolate has begun setting and just a pinch or two is enough.
- LET IT SET at room temperature for half an hour, then into the fridge for 2-3 hours.
- STORE the pretzel toffee in an airtight container in the fridge to keep the chocolate firm.
- Please take a moment to rate this recipe. I really appreciate it and it helps me create more recipes.
- Classically made with saltine crackers / salada crackers (depending on where you live). If you want to use those in place of pretzels, just lay enough crackers into a lined 10×15 inch pan to cover the bottom in a single layer. I find about 35 individual crackers works well. You can also use other crackers like ritz crackers or jatz crackers too!
- If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test the toffee by dripping a little into iced water and leave it for 30-60 seconds. If it’s hard, the toffee is ready.
- For the oven method, just let the toffee boil in the saucepan for 3 minutes only, then pour it over the pretzels already in the pan and cook in a preheated oven at 200C/400F for 6 minutes. This method is a little less precise but can still work. Since all ovens vary and you can’t actually check the temperature of the toffee, you may end up with some chewy spots but most should be crunchy.
- Chocolate: I use a combination of dark chocolate (semi sweet chocolate) and milk chocolate. You can use white chocolate though it will make the toffee extremely sweet.
- Peanut butter: You can also drizzle over some warm creamy peanut butter and swirl it through the chocolate for an added flavour dimension.
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