A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the smells that remind me of Christmas. But what about the tastes? Are there certain foods you associate with happy holiday memories, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without? For me, it’s all about peanut brittle.
Every year, my grandmother gave each of her children’s families a big metal coffee can of brittle, the outside of the can wrapped in festive Christmas paper. Even more than opening the gifts, we couldn’t wait to peel the top off and dive into the brittle. The can always seemed to magically hold more than seemed possible, and was always gone too fast.
When we were little, we weren’t allowed anywhere near the kitchen when Grandma was making the candy. She was always afraid that our being underfoot, would result in someone getting burned, probably more likely her than us. But when we got older, if we were extra careful, and tall enough to reach the stove without standing on a chair, she would let us help prepare the bounty.
I can’t imagine how long it took her to churn out all that brittle. She probably stood over the big boiling pot of sugar for hours on end, constantly stirring, waiting for the temperature to get hot enough to reach 310 degrees, the “hard crack” stage of candy chemistry. Stirring the steamy pot, was never our favorite way to help, knowing that if we hesitated, even for a second, the batch would be ruined.
Never using a candy thermometer, she always knew the exact time to pull the pot off the flame. She’d yell, “get back!” just before she’d throw in the vanilla and baking soda, and we would scatter. With a giant “whoosh” the candy would bubble and foam, releasing the comforting smell of vanilla, and wondrously growing in the pot while she gave a final stir. As Grandma poured the molten sugar onto the cookie sheet, we’d be ready, buttered spatulas in hand, to spread the brittle thin, as fast as we could, before the sugar cooled and hardened.
The hardest part of “helping” was keeping our fingers from sampling the sides of the spread before the candy cooled enough to touch. This testing was our favorite part of the job. How else would we know if it was good?
When I first moved into my own place, some years after my Grandma passed, I thought I’d give it a try, and reclaim the tradition. It was so much more time consuming and tedious than I remembered. Making a single batch every year or so was enough for me. It’s hot, messy and is easy to get impatient and pull it too soon, resulting in that brittle that sticks to your teeth so hard, you wonder if it might pull a filling.
Then, a few years ago I found a microwave brittle recipe! It’s so fast and easy, I’ve taken up the brittle mantle, and have brought the tradition back! It takes about 10 minutes to make, and even pastry chefs can’t tell the difference between the laborious stove top and super easy microwave versions. Today, as my gift to you, I’m going to give you the recipe and teach you how to make it with more pictures and step-by-step instructions, You may or may not thank me later for this addictive, too easy way to make nut brittles.
I love my Grandma, and still miss her every day. She was such a role model to me, living each day with love, curiosity and joy for life. Creating this yummy treat, that reminds me of her with all my senses, seems a fitting way to remember and honor her. Or at least that’s my story - and I’m sticking to it.
May your Christmas be filled with peace, wonder and happy memories of the past and new ones formed. I know you’ve been good, so Santa will surely bring you everything on your list. Most importantly, may your brittle come out perfect every time.
Much love to you!
Start with a sturdy bowl. I like one with a handle, since we’re going to move the hot bowl in and out of the microwave.
Add one cup of the raw nut of your choice. I like mine extra nutty, so I put in another ¼ cup. I make pecan, cashew and peanut varieties, which are always available raw at Nifty Nut House, one of the most amazing stores on the planet.
Add one cup sugar, ½ cup light corn syrup, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons butter. (Butter really is better.) Give the ingredients a quick stir, but don’t worry about getting it all combined.
Set the microwave for 9 minutes on high, put in the bowl and start cooking! It may take more or less time to cook, depending on your microwave and the kind of nut you used. Cashews cook the fastest, so you really have to watch them towards the end. Burned brittle is heartbreaking.
Let the mixture cook for three minutes, then pop out of the microwave and stir with a spatula to combine all ingredients. I like to have buttered spoon ready to go to scrape off the spatula and a little plate to rest the sticky utensils between stirs.
After 3 minutes in the microwave, time to combine ingredients!
Put back into the microwave and cook for an additional three minutes.
While it’s cooking, mix 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon vanilla into a small bowl and set aside.
Butter a baking sheet and a spoon to spread the brittle, so you’re ready to go when the brittle is ready.
After three minutes, take out and stir again. By this time the nuts will be starting to brown a bit.
Bubbling when you take it out of the oven! See how the nuts are getting starting to tan.
Put back in for the final three minutes, but start watching it around 8 minutes, especially for cashews. I don’t rely on a candy thermometer anymore, I go by color and smell.
You know the brittle is done cooking when the nuts look tanned and roasted, and you can smell them cooking. The sugar mixture around the nuts should be a lovely browned butter, or golden tan color. I try to hold off as long as I can, to get a tan, rather than off-white color when I look at the bowl from the side. It’s a thin line between done and burned. It could take another minute or two, to finish cooking, but keep watching the color, until it’s right.
Nuts are getting darker! Sugar mixture is not dark enough yet.
Figuring out when the brittle is done is vital. Too soon and the brittle, well, just won’t be brittle. Too long and the brittle is burned. It may take you a batch or two to figure it out, so I suggest starting with peanuts, since they’re not as expensive to throw away until you get it right.
Nuts are just a little darker Sugar mixture looking better too!
Now for the exciting part! When the brittle is done, you must act fast. If you don’t the brittle may burn, or cool enough that it will be hard to get out of the bowl.
Pour in the vanilla/baking powder mix, and stir together fast until well combined.
Without wasting any time, pour the brittle on the baking sheet and scrape out the bowl with the spatula you’ve been using. Use the buttered spoon to scrape off the spatula and spread the brittle as thin as you can get it. The candy hardens fast at this point, so don’t dilly dally, or you’ll have that really thick brittle that’s hard to bite into.
This could have gone 30 seconds longer, but is still delicious and not too sticky.
Let cool, then break into pieces and try not to eat it all right away.
I’m not really a wine drinker, so I can’t give you a good wine pairing, but I can tell you that a nice bourbon is lovely with brittle, especially if the brittle is well-done, aka burned.
Here’s the recipe!
Microwave Peanut Brittle
Makes 1 pound
1 cup raw peanuts
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup white corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
Stir together peanuts, sugar, syrup, salt, and butter in 1 ½ quart casserole. Microwave on high for 10 minutes, stirring after 3 and 7 minutes. Add vanilla and baking soda and gently stir until light and foamy. Pour mixture onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Use forks or fingers to stretch into thin brittle, being careful not to burn yourself. When cool, break into pieces and store.