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.)

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