Well, 2009 is almost at an end, and I still have numerous resolutions to check off my list. Let’s be honest; some of them will just have to wait until 2010.
I didn’t get that cool Electra Townie bike I promised myself, and thus I didn’t ride it once.
I walked a fair amount, especially when I was hanging out in downtown Portland, but certainly not 5 miles a day, 5 days a week, every week of the entire year.
I didn’t give up my 2 cups of morning coffee. I mean, seriously, why did I put THAT on the list?
I didn’t get back into a light weight training routine or go to the gym regularly to work out on the machines. Bor–ing!
I did manage to lounge around in the Redmond Pro club’s spa-like women’s locker room (you should see this thing: soft lighting, gorgeous painted tile wall, 3 full-size whirlpools, padded lounge chairs, Grecian-style fountain, steam room, sauna) a few times a month and took full advantage of the whirlpool, steam room, and sauna. But of course, lounging around, wrapped only in a towel, doing as close to nothing as possible was not on the list. Perhaps I should include it next year.
But as I perused further, I saw one resolution that I could easily accomplish TODAY. It said: “Make peanut brittle. No peanuts. Must be exceptional.” Aha! (Did I mention that I have never made peanut brittle or any kind of brittle before?)
So I began researching all of my dessert cookbooks this morning. Then I hit the web and looked around there. That took hours and more than 2 cups of coffee. Everyone makes it slightly differently and naming conventions are all over the place. Some cooks make toffee and call it brittle. Some cooks make hard caramel (which I call praline) and call it brittle. One noted cook calls melted white chocolate painted thinly and embellished with raspberry puree, chocolate brittle. EEYIYI!
Thus, the first thing I had to do was to determine what brittle is and is not. After much fusing, fuming, and cross checking of resources, here’s what makes sense to me.
Brittle: A Working Definition
Brittle is a hard, crunchy, caramelized sugar candy consisting primarily of sugar, water, syrup (usually corn syrup but sometimes with a little molasses), and butter boiled to the hard crack stage (300° or slightly higher) and then structurally lightened by the addition of baking soda.
Brittle is usually mixed with nuts (such as peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts) or other crunchy embellishments (such as coconut, cocoa nibs, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, or even popcorn).
Brittle is seldom flavored with anything other than vanilla or salt.
The texture of the final brittle can be controlled to some degree by increasing the amount of baking soda and/or the amount of butter, and also by spreading or pulling the hot mixture as thinly as possible. The brittle must reach the hard crack stage, however, so adjusting the texture by decreasing the final temperature is not an option, as it is with chewy caramels.
The best brittle is crunchy, open textured, and chewable. It should shatter when you bite into it. It should be loaded with nuts or other goodies, which further enhance chewability. It should not be soft, sticky, or chewy.
NOTE The photos show cocoa nibs in the brittle and a mixture of finely chopped bittersweet and white chocolate on top of the finished brittle. Both turned out to be extraneous and actually get in the way of the other flavors. Thus, I am not including either in the final recipe.
Toasted Hazelnut, Honey & Garam Masala Brittle
This buttery nut brittle is unlike any I have ever experienced. The flavor of wildflower honey almost supersedes that of toasted hazelnuts, but not quite. The taste buds dance from one flavor to the other and back again, helped along by a generous dose of sea salt, both in and on top of the brittle. The gentle yet pervasive background flavors of vanilla and exotic spices will keep you and everyone else coming back for more.
This brittle is great on its own but also as a garnish for any creamy dessert, such as a mousse, panna cotta, ice cream, pudding, crème caramel, or pot de crème. You can serve it in pieces alongside a dessert or pulverize in the processor and sprinkle it on top.
2 cups toasted, skinned hazelnuts, hit lightly with a mallet to break in half (10 ounces)
1½ cups large flake, unsweetened coconut
1-1½ teaspoons baking soda (I used 1 teaspoon but will try 1½ teaspoons on the next test)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2-3 teaspoons LunaCafe Garam Masala (I used 3 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
½ cup wildflower honey
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup cold water
sea salt in a grinder
- Coat a large (12- by 17-inch), edged baking sheet with vegetable spray. Reserve.
- Combine the baking soda, salt, and LunaCafe Garam Masala in a small bowl and set next to the stove, along with the open bottle of vanilla and a set of measuring spoons.
- In a large (3 quart) saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, butter, and water. Slowly bring to a simmer, stirring to help dissolve the sugar. Wash down the sides of the pan occasionally with a pastry brush dipped in cold water to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
- When the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring, wash down the sides of the pan once more, and let simmer undisturbed until an instant-read thermometer registers 300° (hard crack stage). Depending on the heat of the burner, the time this takes will vary. Using high heat, it took 15 minutes in my tests. The mixture will go from pale gold to rich golden amber.
- Turn off the heat and immediate add the vanilla, being careful to stand back as you introduce the room temperature liquid into the very hot caramel. Stir with a silicon spatula to distribute the vanilla evenly. Then add the baking soda/salt/spice mixture, and again be cautious as this addition causes the caramel to foam furiously. When the foam subsides somewhat, stir with a silicon spatula to evenly distribute the baking soda mixture. You will notice that the texture of the mixture changes dramatically and appears a few shades lighter in color as well.
- Pour the hot caramel over the nut mixture in the baking pan and work quickly with a silicon spatula or oil-coated wooden spatula to coat all of the nuts with the hot caramel. Grind sea salt lightly over the brittle.
- Spread the brittle out as thinly as you can with an oiled wooden spatula. You will need to exert real pressure. When the brittle is still warm, yet cool enough to touch, you can pull on it from all sides to thin it even more.
- When the brittle is completely cool, break it into pieces with a mallet. Store in an airtight container in layers separated with foil or wax paper.
Makes one 12- by 17-inch tray of brittle.
A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti
Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
Demolition Desserts by Elizabeth Faulker
Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard
Dolce Italiano by Gina De Palma
Indulge by Claire Clark
Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
Rustic Fall Desserts by Julie Richardson & Cory Schreiber
Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt
The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman