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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

gift this: best ever nut brittle

nut brittle

Like a lot of people, I'm going to try and cut back on Christmas gift spending this year. One of the best ways to show people you love them without spending a fortune is to cook treats for them (you know, you don't really love someone unless you fatten them up a little - one more proof point that I'm of Italian descent). My dad used to bring home the best nut brittle about a week before Christmas, from some vendor who gave out tins of it to all their clients. This stuff was like eating a heath bar - if you hadn't seen food in a week. I'll work on a chocolate-sided version next time, but for now, my research led me to this recipe by Tina Ujlaki (adapted from famous pastry chef Karen DeMasco). I adapted it further by trying a combination of almonds and pine nuts. I knew it was a winner when my dad said he'd gladly eat 2 pounds of it in one sitting.

Grocery list: 2 cups sugar, 1 stick butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 12 ounces nuts (slivered almonds and pine nuts were my choice, but you could use roasted salted cashews, peanuts, pistachios, pecans, or any combination), sea salt.

butter sugar corn syrup for brittle

Mix the sugar, butter, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.

boiling sugar for brittle

Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At first, it will be very light colored, but as the heat rises it will start to turn caramel-y. Using a candy thermometer is absolutely critical, because if you don't boil the caramel long enough (i.e. get it up to 300 degrees exactly), it will be chewy when it cools instead of snapping apart into pieces.

brittle will be chewy unless 300 degrees

When it is finally 300 degrees (the original recipe said to boil for 10 minutes, but I think it took me at least 15 minutes to get the caramel to 300 degrees), turn off the heat and quickly stir in the 1/2 tsp baking soda.

brittle caramel boiling steady

Carefully stir in the baking soda; it will bubble for a few seconds.

12 ounces almonds and pine nuts

I finally got to use my new kitchen scale - measure out 12 ounces of some combination of nuts.

adding nuts to caramel

Stir the nuts into the caramel mixture.

nut brittle spreading

Spread the brittle onto a large rimmed nonstick baking sheet. This takes some muscle, since the mixture is thick and cooling quickly. Once it's evenly distributed, sprinkle sea salt over the top. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes, then break into big pieces. The original recipe notes that this brittle can be stored in an airtight container for up to a month - although I can't imagine this lasting for longer than 3 days once you've tasted a bite.

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