Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peanut Brittle

It is December now, which in our home is known as "Baking Season".  I have decided to give gift boxes of homemade candies to our relatives for Christmas, and I wanted to start by trying out a recipe for an old favorite of mine.  I absolutely love peanut brittle, especially the stuff made by See's Candy, who like to add to my waistline by putting naughty kiosks in the malls in December where they sell this stuff like it is crack.  And to me, it might as well be.  Alas, there is no See's kiosk here in Hagerstown, so I am forced to try to make it myself.  It actually turned out very well.

For a printer-friendly copy of this recipe, click here:

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup peanuts
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp baking soda

I have to say that this is not my first attempt at peanut brittle.  I tried it last year, with very poor results.  I had used a recipe that said it could be made in the microwave, and it just didn't work for me.  This is a candy, and one that, to be decent, has to be cooked to a pretty precise temperature before pouring, so don't attempt it without a candy thermometer.  However, I was surprised by how easy this really was.  It did take patience, though.

Start by preparing your landing zone for the candy, because you won't have time when you need it.  Just grease a large cookie sheet pan and set it aside.

Put the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water in a heavy medium saucepan.  Clip your candy thermometer to the side.  You will ideally want the tip of the candy thermometer to be immersed in the liquid but not touching the bottom of the pan.  The pan itself will be a little hotter than the candy, and you want to be sure to get the candy to the right temperature before you take it off.  This is hard to do at first, I'll just be honest and say.  Once you get it stirred up, the candy won't be very high in the pan.  Don't worry.  Turn the heat onto medium and let it go, stirring occasionally.  Try not to bump the candy thermometer too much.  As it begins to boil, the volume will seem to increase and you can easily immerse the candy thermometer.

Once the sugar is dissolved and it has started to boil, add the peanuts.  Stir them in well.

See, the tip of the candy thermometer is now in the boiling candy.  Now comes the part where your patience is required.  You have to sit and watch the candy, stirring every now and then, until it reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  It will go by stages where it seems to just be jumping up, and then it will seem to just sit there at one temperature FOREVER.  Don't be discouraged.  As long as you keep the temperature on medium (DO NOT TRY TO CHEAT AND TURN THIS UP TO HIGH) it will get there eventually.  You are waiting for the consistency to change, the water in the corn syrup to boil off, and for the color to darken.  I was actually surprised at how dark it got those last 10 degrees or so.  This process is known as caramelization.

You can see that the candy is much darker and much thicker now.  You should be stirring constantly at the end due to how thick it gets so that you don't accidentally scorch it.

Once you reach that magic temperature of 300 degrees F, you need to work quickly.  Time is not your friend here.  Remove the candy from the heat and immediately stir in the softened butter and baking soda.  (If you forgot to soften the butter before you started the brittle, 10-15 seconds in the old microwave will work just fine).  When you add the baking soda, it will foam up a bit and turn much lighter in color.  This is due to a chemical reaction between the baking soda and the acids in the sugar that produces carbon dioxide, and will result in a much lighter (less dense) candy.  That's what you want.    This is also why you used a bigger pan than you seemed to need -- I assume that boiling, foaming candy would not feel super-great on your hands.

Almost done!  Just dump it onto your prepared pan, grab 2 forks, and start lifting and pulling until you have it as thin as you can get it.  Bear in mind that it will be rapidly turning very hard as you are doing this, so work quickly.  Woe to those of you who, out of arrogance, will grab a spatula and try to flatten it (that's what I tried).  It just stuck to my silicone spatula, made a mess, and solidified much thicker than I wanted.  Live and learn.

In a very short time, it will be done and cool.  Just break it into pieces (it will break itself as you try to get it off the pan, so no worries) and store it in an airtight container or reward yourself for all of your hard efforts by grazing on it all afternoon.  Just be sure to have that syringe of insulin ready to go ...

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