Peanut Brittle

Where I grew up in New Jersey, there was a local candy shop that sold macadamia nut brittle that was a prized possession in my house. It was, as you can expect, expensive as kids candy went, and my parents/Santa only got it once a year to sneak into our Christmas stockings.

Since then, brittle of any kind has been synonymous with Christmas, and I can’t let the season pass without mixing up a batch—or five—to share with my family.

One of the things they don’t tell you before you get to culinary school is that the impressive stuff is often the easiest. Until I entered my Chocolate and Confections class at the CIA, I had only eaten brittle, never made it. I was stunned by how this candy I waited all year to eat goes from sugar to brittle in less than 30 minutes, and I was hooked.

Brittle is part of the dairy-added caramel candies family, alongside toffee, the other Christmas staple. Brittle generally contains less dairy than toffee, which makes it a bit snappier and less crumbly. It is typically thinner and more delicate, though I am sure I lost a baby tooth or two to a particularly hearty piece of brittle.

Making toffee is simple (check out the video below), but you will want a thermometer to measure the temperature of your sugar. The key to toffee is having your ingredients ready—your mise en place—since the process moves quickly once it starts. Sugar gets cooked with water until it reaches a sticky, yet pliable stage, and then it’s cooked with the nuts until it’s golden brown and full of flavor. A quick addition of butter, vanilla, and some baking soda (for a little bit of rise), and you’ve got brittle!

The beauty of brittle is that it can be made with ingredients as decadent as macadamia nuts or as unassuming as peanuts, and both versions are 10 out of 10 perfect. You can use any nut (nuts with nooks and crannies, like pecans, can hide uncooked sugar, so you’ll just need to be a little more attentive) and even seeds, like sesame or pumpkin. Don’t be afraid to mix and match to make it your own.

Brittle is a great holiday gift, but it is sensitive to humidity and moisture, so be sure to wrap it up tight. Just be aware that it’s a sticky tradition. Once you start, you’ll never be able to stop!

- Posted by Laura Monroe, DISH Editor