A recipe with only four ingredients should be as easy as one, two, three ... four, right?

Not necessarily.

I recently tried a couple of recipes from two old Betty Crocker cookbooks - one from the 1960s and another from the 1980s.

These books are terrific resources, but they tend to leave out critical steps.

This is where you, dear reader, can benefit from my experience.

A few weeks ago I whipped up a batch of Butterscotch Bar Cookies using a recipe from the 1960s version of the book. They weren't particularly sweet but they were plenty dry. That's because I used self-rising flour, which already includes baking powder and salt - but I also added the baking powder and salt the recipe called for. So I ended up with double the baking powder and salt. It was just a pinch of both, but it was enough to make the result a bit off.

My next attempt was more successful but still had its drawbacks. I was looking for a sweet snack recipe that didn't require baking - too hot to turn on the oven - and found one for toffee that calls for just four things: brown sugar, butter, semisweet chocolate chips and pecan pieces.

This toffee is outstanding - better and surprisingly less crunchy (and therefore less hard on the teeth) than store-bought stuff. So you might consider making two batches if you have a crowd. My colleagues couldn't get enough of it.

I made this toffee twice and had different results each time. So here are some hints to help you get it right on the first try.

One: Use the correct size - or at least shape - baking dish. The recipe says to use a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. The first time I made this I used a rectangular dish of about 8-by-11-by-2 inches. It was difficult to spread the small amount of toffee the length of the baking dish. So, square it is.

Two: Make sure once you bring the butter-and brown-sugar mixture to a boil that you keep it at a medium boil, with lots of bubbles, for the full seven minutes, stirring nonstop using a wooden spoon. Then cut the toffee before it sets.

The first time, I boiled the toffee at medium but let it sit too long before cutting it - only about 20 minutes, but still too long - so it was rock-hard. Once I managed to chip it out of the baking dish, it was delicious.

The second go-round, I kept the toffee at a medium-low boil rather than medium. It didn't reach the proper consistency, which is that of taffy - like super-thick syrup - so it didn't set properly. Fortunately, it tasted fine, though.

Three: I ended up with about a cup of pecan pieces coated in chocolate that the melted butter and brown sugar mixture didn't quite cover. I placed these crumbles in a small airtight container and refrigerated them; they might actually have been better than the toffee itself.


Makes: About 20 candies

• 1 cup finely chopped or crushed pecans

• 3/4 cup packed brown sugar

• 1/2 cup butter

• 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Butter a square pan, 9x9x2 inches or 8x8x2 inches. Spread pecans evenly in the pan. Heat brown sugar and butter to boiling in a one-quart saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, seven minutes. Immediately spread mixtures over the crushed pecans.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over the hot mixture; place a cookie sheet over the pan until the chocolate chips melt (this takes just a few minutes). Spread melted chocolate over candy. Cut the toffee into about 1 1/2-inch squares while hot.

Refrigerate until firm.

Adapted from the "Betty Crocker Cookbook."