Monday, January 3, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Brittle (Belated Holiday Post)

Ok, ok, I have to admit, I don't actually know your Grandma, but I'm GUESSING, this is not your Grandma's Brittle.  I recently went to Artisanal LA, which is a local artisanal food event linked with the also very cool Unique LA craft show, source of many of my Christmas presents.

ANYWAYS, based on some of my samples there, I realized that nut brittle can go way beyond your standard peanut, and started to want to play with different combinations (resulting in me making 4 batches of brittle the week before Christmas with varying success rates).

First step, find a solid basic brittle recipe to start from... I used this "Best Ever Nut Brittle" from Food and Wine. I figured "best ever" has to be a good place to start, right?

Basically, what I learned is that you can put almost anything into a brittle, if you throw it in at the very end, during the time when you put in the nuts and baking soda. If you put it in before that, you run the risk of compromising the crystalization of the sugar. My two top favorites were....

Rosemary Almond with Sea Salt:

And Walnut-Orange-Cinnamon (on the left)

This is what you need:
a candy thermometer 
-2 cups sugar
-1/2 cup water
-1 stick unsalted butter
-1/3 cup light corn syrup
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-12 ounces roasted nuts 
-1tsp salt

This is what you do with it:
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup and slowly bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. The mixture will become light brown, and you must must must wait until it registers 300° on a candy thermometer, which is the 'hard crack' stage. There is a non-thermometer way of measuring this that involves dropping pieces of candy into glasses of cold water and then assessing what happens, but that takes a while which means you might miss the magic moment and end up with a burned up pan, so just shell out the five bucks for the thermometer- they have them at the grocery store. Make sure the candy thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan and is measuring from somewhere in the middle of the liquid. In addition, you can really get burned here- unlike water which will cool off pretty quickly, the sugar mixture will stick to you and stays hot longer so it'll keep burning you while it is on your skin- be careful!

When it hits 300 IMMEDIATELY remove from the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda, salt, and any flavoring. Speed is of the essence because it'll start to cool right away. The mixture will bubble, don't freak out. Stir in the nuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto a large rimmed, nonstick rimmed baking sheet lined with tinfoil. Using the back of a large spoon (oil it lightly if it sticks), spread the brittle into a thin, even layer.  Let cool completely, then break it up- it should crack into large shards.

Now... to flavor it!
Rosemary-Almond: with the baking soda mixture dump in 2 tsp dried rosemary, and use sliced almonds for the nuts. When medium cool, sprinkle the top with sea salt.

Walnut-Orange-Cinnamon: dump in zest from 1 orange, 1 tsp cinnamon, and use walnuts

Thai curry: put in 2 tsp red curry paste and use peanuts (I did this, but didn't really use enough curry so it didn't make the top 2 favorites list)

Now that you have the basics, go nuts! (scratch that, excuse the pun, I can't believe I said that, sheesh).

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