As promised, I’ve agreed to share my recipes for some of the holiday treats I make each year. The following recipe was actually the first treat I made back in 2007 and I’ve been hooked on homemade food-oriented gifts ever since. My feeling is, since I can’t afford to spend oodles of money on people (as much as I wish I could!), I’d rather spend my time. To me, time is perhaps more precious than money, so I hope that by giving my time and care to create a tasty treat for friends and family, that I can still share some holiday cheer. I got this recipe from the November 2007 Cooking Light magazine, but I’ve seen several variations around the internet. I’ve also played around with it a bit as noted below.
Walnut Brittle (you can substitute roasted peanuts as well, but I haven’t experimented with almonds or pecans)
makes approximately 24 ounces
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light-colored corn syrup
1/2 c. water
1 T. butter
1.5 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
8oz. dark or milk chocolate (optional)
Prep step: Play prepared jelly-roll pan in 200* oven for about 10 minutes. This will help significantly with step 4.
1. Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and coat paper lightly with cooking spray (NOTE: Do not use wax paper! I’d never used parchment before this and thought I could sub. I was wrong!)
2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 c. water and butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stiffing until sugar dissolves. Cook 20 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 275*. (A word of warning: I tried cooking for 20 minutes, but found the brittle came out too chewy each time so I finally broke down and bought a candy thermometer from Crate and Barrel. Totally worth it, especially if you’re making multiple batches of this as gifts. Also, the quality of the saucepan, oddly, really does make a difference. I think it has to do with the amount of heat lost through the edges of the pan. Heavier pans insulate better so the sugar mixture heats more evenly. Last, be sure the saucepan is deep enough to account for a good bit of bubbling. The mixture nearly doubles in size when it bubbles up so watch out!)
3. Stir in walnuts; cook 2 minutes or until candy thermometer registers 295*, stirring constantly. (If using peanuts, stir these in now)
4. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and vanilla (mixture will bubble). Quickly pour mixture onto prepared pan; spread to 1/4″ thickness using a wooden spoon coated with cooking spray. (I don’t know if I can stress enough that this step needs to happen FAST. The brittle begins to harden as soon as its removed from the heat and the temperature plummets when it hits the pan so you’ve got to move with a purpose. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a big ball of thick rock-hard caramel stuff. This might be fun for a child to chip her teeth on, but not so nice as a gift.)
5. Cook completely; using a wooden spoon, break brittle into bite-sized pieces. (I usually just break off chunks with my hands. You can control the size of the pieces a bit better this way. Using a wooden spoon relies a bit more on the natural weaknesses in the brittle.)
*6. If dipping in chocolate, melt chocolate slowly in double boiler. I’ve never tempered chocolate for this recipe (mostly because I don’t know how), but I bet it would give the chocolate a nice glossy look. Anyhow….
7. Dip ends of brittle in melted chocolate and lay flat on a parchment-lined pan. Cool in refrigerator or freezer. (If you put these in the freezer, don’t forget about them!! Brittle is usually best stored at a relatively cold temperature, but I imagine the shock of freezer to plate doesn’t do any favors for the texture).