Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Nut Brittle - All The Ways

This year for Christmas Baking, one of the things I made was a Sesame-Cashew Brittle.

I found the recipe last year in  Food & Wine.  And I am the 1st to admit it is darn tasty.  Also fun to give to your child to break into pieces when you are done making it.  But, the directions are a bit daunting for the beginning candy maker.

This is too bad, because brittle is really easy once you get comfortable with the process.

This is what happens when a 12 yr. old gets the job.
One of the other things the "tenderizing mallet"
is useful for. (Nice work BTW)
The minimal instructions contain several "let this happen" but as an uncertain candy maker, I wanted pictures.  As a, now, much more experienced brittle maker - I have pictures... and some ways to expand your range once you have the basics.

After poking about - it becomes clear that there are clearly two kinds of brittle: with butter, and without.  The no butter sort is more notorious of sticking to the teeth, but it has the advantage of being pretty and transparent - or at least translucent.

The most difficult part of making brittle - or at least the scariest part - is working with hot sugar syrup.  I speak of this personally since I have had a brittle-boil-over disaster.  Burns and sticky spots all over my stove top and floor.
Part of my motivation for writing this post is to save you from that particular trial.
And for the record.  As cooking accidents go, it was really pretty small.  And cleaning up the brittle chunks from kitchen surfaces was much more annoying than the burns.

Below I've got the delicious recipe that was my starting point - but I'll include the original recipe (with extra instructions and pictures!), a "no-butter" version, and a !Microwave! version if you are in a hurry, feeling adventurous, or want to expand your microwave chops.

All brittle with butter recipes share 2 common problems.  One is the danger of the bubbling syrup overflowing the pan (see above).  The second is the brittle mixture seizing up when you add the nuts. Well both types have that problem.

1. To prevent overflow, work in a pot that seems too large.  
If you making more than one batch, heat the sugar syrup to temp and stir in the butter in the small pan.  Transfer to the large pot to finish cooking the sugar to the "toasty" stage, adding the baking soda, and the nuts.
When you add the baking soda - it will foam.  A large enough pot will make that no problem at all.

2. Work with warmed nuts.  
The whole reason adding the nuts makes for such a panic is room temperature nuts (65˚F - 75˚F usually) added to a syrup over 250˚F will definitely cause some havoc.
If you let your nuts sit in an oven/toaster turned to it's lowest "on" temp - around 180˚F, the nuts will be warm, but not get toastier.

When you add them to the syrup, they cool things much less, and reduce the panic.  You have all the time you need to get the brittle poured and spread. And you will no longer be subject to the phrase "once you add the nuts, work quickly, it will start to seize up."

This recipe is especially buttery and decadent.  You can pare it down to just 2 oz. (4 Tbs).  It will work, but it will be stickier, and won't be quite as rich and tastily fragile.

Sesame & Cashew Brittle

1/4C black sesame seeds
2 Tbs white sesame seeds
12 oz cashews (~ 2 3/4C)

2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

355g sugar (~1 3/4C)
113g water (4oz or 1/2C)
80g light corn syrup (~1/4C)
227g unsalted butter (8oz or 2 sticks)  shut into tables spoons & at room temp.

4 qt sauce pan/pot - or larger (up to an 8qt pasta pot is fine - lots of room for safety)
silicone mat or parchment paper
2 baking sheets (1/2 sheet pans work the best)
sturdy silicone (soft and non-stick) spatula
butter or oil for "non-stick" baking sheet
good hot pads/baking mitts
heat proof bowl (metal or ceramic)
candy thermometer (or a small plate in the freezer)

Measure out all the ingredients, and make sure the butter is room temp.
Mix together the salt, baking soda and nutmeg.
(If you don't have a candy thermometer, place the small ceramic plate in the freezer)
Place the seeds and nuts in a heat proof bowl, and let them warm up in an oven/toaster oven at it's lowest "ON" setting (somewhere around 180˚F - no higher than 200˚F).
Place the silicone mat or parchment paper onto one baking sheet, and liberally grease the bottom of the other one with the butter/oil mentioned in Equipment.
Don't lose track of your hand protection.

Put the sugars and the water in your pot.  Whisk them together to combine.  Place over medium-high to high heat.  Bring the temp up to 240˚F - 250˚F.  
(If you don't have a thermometer, when the bubbles are fairly small, and foamy looking, drizzle a little syrup on your cold plate - and look for syrup that forms a firm ball, but still yielding ball "soft ball stage".)

Drop the heat to low.  Start adding the butter 1-2 Tbs at a time.  Whisk it in until you get a pale yellow, silky looking syrup.

This needs to be heated back up to lose the raw sugar flavor, by caramelizing and breaking down the sugar.  This creates the toasty brittle flavor.

If you don't wait long enough, the brittle will be pale, and the candy will not be as tasty.

The brittle on the left was my 1st batch.  I was tentative.
I let the second batch get a bit browner.
The right batch is the correct color - and the tastiest.

If you are working in a small pan for combining the sugars and butter - now is the time to transfer to the large pot.  (If you are thinking ahead, pre-warm the big pot to speed things up).

As you cook the syrup to get to the correct toasty color, it will foam some.  This  big pot gives you plenty of room.

Continue to cook the sugar-butter syrup over medium-high heat.  Watch for the golden color, and use your nose to check for the beginnings of a toasty smell.

Off to a good start.
Almost there...
but no toasty smell yet.
Get the nuts out of their warming oven.  You are almost there.


Quick!  Kill the heat, add the vanilla, stir.
Add the salt-baking soda-nutmeg mixture.  Stir it in quickly.  (It will likely foam up).

Add the warm seeds & nuts.  Stir in.

Pour the mixture onto the silicone mat/parchment paper.  Press the brittle down with the greased baking sheet bottom.  Keep you hot pads/mitts on.  The candy underneath is HOT!

Let the candy cool for at least 30min.  The slabs can be stored this way for awhile.  When you are ready to serve or package it, break into pieces about this size:
Sharpie for scale - of course
(Yes - this was the early, pale brittle -
go for darker.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

For Serious - Fruitcake

Many years ago, when email didn't have pictures - 2005 to be exact, a recipe for fruitcake scrolled past my eyes that intrigued me.  It came from an older incarnation of World Wide Recipes (thanks for your great work Joe Barkson).  The original recipe is from a woman name Shava from Massachusetts who'd written it down after 30 years of tweaking by food co-ops.  And apparently the parent recipe was another century old.  Anyway - this recipe has a long history of getting altered to the current reality, and passed on.

Fruitcake has long fascinated me - but candied fruit had long disgusted me.  (Who decided bright green cherries were a good idea - I ask you?)  After all, with something that tasted so awful, but had such a persistent existence had to have a decent origin story.

It does.  It goes back to lack of refrigeration and other modern food preservation techniques - along with a need for travel-stable, calorie dense foods.  So we are talking the middle ages, when travel really started to become a thing.  (See the Good Eats episode "It's a Wonderful Cake" for more on this story.)   His recipe is an improvement, but I am certain mine is better.

The only draw back - this one takes some time and attention.  But I swear, once you get around to it, it is worth it.

A quick note - this recipe makes an ENORMOUS amount of fruitcake.  Like, for a commune, enormous.  I made a half recipe, and still had a ton.  So I'll give you amounts for 1/4 of the original.  But if you want to go big.... go real big.  I've also given volume and mass amounts -for the non liquids.  Using an electronic gram scale really speeds things up.

Fruitcake You Will Want to Eat

Start the fruit the night before!
Cooking Temp: 275˚F  

     Fruit Mixture:
120g (3/4C) raisins
227g (8oz) plump dried apricots
227g (8oz) dried berries (a mix of cranberries, cherries & blueberries are suggested)
140g (5oz) dried candied pineapple (not the "wet candied" look in the dried fruit section)
40g (1/4C) candied orange and/or lemon peel
100g (3.5oz) crystallized ginger
115g (4oz) walnuts (raw)
115g (4oz) almonds - sliced (raw)
1 bottle peach schnapps (any peach liquor between 36-48 proof or 18% - 24% alcohol)

    Flour Mixture:
195g (1 1/4C) flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

    Fats, Sugar and Spice:
115g (4oz) shortening - this really does need shortening, if you must butter - do ghee)
155g (3/4 C) sugar
2 Tbs molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mace
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t black pepper

3 eggs

cutting board
large bowl
your very largest bowl
mixer with the standard or paddle attachment (or large bowl w/ a strong spatula)
measuring cups and spoons
scale that measures in grams
parchment paper (or very greased brown paper)
2 standard (10in. x 4in. +/-) loaf pans (9x9 brownie pans will do in a pinch)
medium bowl
(spray bottle - optional, but AWESOME)
cheese cloth
cake tin or large tupperware

    Fruit Mixture:
Cut all the fruit, ginger and any whole walnuts into pieces no larger than the end joint of your pinky (small dice).   Place in your large bowl. Add about 1C peach schnapps.  Let it sit, covered, overnight.  Stir when you think of it.  If there is no schnapps at the bottom, add a bit more.  (Original recipe comment, "C'mon, it'll bake off.")

    The next day:
Measure out the flour mixture.  Set aside.
In a mixer bowl, add shortening.  Mix the shortening until it's fluffy.  Add all the sugar, molasses and spices.  Mix until uniform.
Add 1 egg, mix in, add 1/3 of the flour mixture.  Mix in.
Add the the next egg, mix, the next 1/3 of the flour.  Mix in.
Do the same with the last egg and last portion of the flour.

Preheat the oven to 275˚F.  Line the loaf pans with parchment paper.

Turn the mixture of flour, fats, sugars, spice and eggs into your biggest bowl.  With a spatula or clean hands, stir in the fruit mixture.  You should have a mixture of fruits and nuts barely held together with batter.

Fill each loaf pan 3/4 full (or less).  If you have extra, make "fruitcake muffins", using paper liners.

Bake for 2.5 - 3 hours.  (If you are using a 9x9 pan, check at 1.5 hours.  If you made muffins, check at 45 min.)
There are lots or variables here.  Your local humidity, the moistness of the fruit... etc.  So don't be afraid to check early.  Use a toothpick to check the center.  When it comes out clean - and/or you see the edges starting to brown, the cake is done.

Let the cakes cool completely.  Cover with a kitchen towel and leave overnight if you need to.

Post Cook:
Lift the cakes out of the pans using the parchment.
Choose the "easy way" or the "real way"  (You can do both).

Easy Way:
Cut into 1/2" to 1" slices.  Use the spray bottle to thoroughly soak the outside of the slices with the schnapps, or use a spoon to sprinkle the schnapps over the slices.
Serve with strong coffee or English breakfast tea.

The Bid'ness:
Bake the cakes on Thanksgiving weekend.
Cut into 2" slices.  Wrap each slice in cheese cloth.
Pour peach schnapps into a bowl.  Submerge each slice in the schnapps.  When the cheese cloth is thoroughly wet, place the wrapped piece of cake into your aging container - a cake tin or a large tupperware.
Close the cake tin, or for the tupperware place the lid on, but do not press it on.
When the slices dry out, and then every day or two going forward, spray thoroughly, or sprinkle with spoonfulls of peach schnapps.
The cakes may get a bit soggy, but let them harden up and repeat.
Hand out to deserving souls Christmas week, and eat some yourself.
Again - a great pairing is strong coffee or English breakfast tea.
Possibly Port.

Your life will never be the same again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Roasted Toasted Besan

Awhile ago a friend gave me THE BOOK of Persian Cooking - _Food of Life_ by Najmieh Batmanglij.  And it has all the Persian food you might ever and never want.

One unique category it contains is traditional pastry items with no wheat flour.  And as I am negotiating the world of no-wheat/no-grain eaters, the fact that many of these recipes never mention "wheat flour" cannot be missed.  As a food explorer (my question at a restaurant is usually, "what's new?") I can't help but be attracted to a different look at dessert.

However.  While a few of the desserts include besan or chickpea flour - it is roasted/toasted chickpea flour.

All the besan I can fine is "raw".  And all the recipes I can find call for roasting a cup or two at a time.  The recipe I'm looking at calls for 3.5 cups, minimum.  And I'm looking at multiplying the recipe.  No skillet is big enough for that.

So I call out the big pans.

2 pans.... 4 lbs of flour.

This will take more time to do all 4 lbs.
I put about 1lb (500g) in each pan.

Popped it in the oven at 425˚F (220˚C) for 8 minutes.
Then stir thoroughly.

Continue to rotate it in the oven - 8 minutes (the 1st time) then 5 minutes - stir, then 3 minutes - stir, then 2 minutes with stirring until it is evenly roasted/toasted.

Oh, and keep your nose alive.  It may happen that you (cough) forget to start the timer... and things get a bit browner.

As long as it is just dark brown - and only on the surface, you are OK. (If you have any black spots, scoop them out and move on).
Stir it in thoroughly and move on.

When it is all done, the transformation should look like this.
Toasted on the top - ready for baking
Raw on the bottom - good for binding and thickening

The recipe in the end:

Roasted Besan

Besan/Chickpea Flour - more than 1 or 2 cups

half sheet pans (rimmed baking sheets)
excellent hard spatula or large fork
pastry brush
large bin/tupperware

preheat oven to 425F
Divide your flour into 1 lb/500g batches on half sheet pans.

Roast the flour for 8 minutes.
Stir thoroughly.
Roast for 5 minutes.
Stir thoroughly.
Roast for 3 minutes.
Stir thoroughly.
Continue to roast for 2 minute intervals until you get the color/toastiness you want.

Pro Tip:  Before doing the 2nd set of flour, brush off your pans of all roasted flour before starting with the second set.  This will keep you from getting burned, bitter bits in your flour.