Roasted Nut Brittle

Oh, dear. I've done it again. After promising you in my last post that I was going to get back on track with our conversations, I totally dropped the ball. Luckily, my ice cream maker for my KitchenAid has arrived and recently I made the most amazing batch of blueberry muffins that I have ever tasted in my entire life. They were really something and I will be sure to share the recipe with you very soon. Seriously.

But I found this post that I had started waaay back over the holidays and I thought it would be fun to post it, two months after the fact. As much as I love sharing my recipes and stories with you, I think most food bloggers would admit that posting the stories are equally as important to the writer, helping us chronicle different events and points in time. So selfishly, I am posting this outdated entry below. Plus, this brittle is out of this world and I wanted to share recipe and the moments surrounding its devouring.

December 30, 2007

Since landing in Illinois one week ago, my tastebuds have gone into overdrive. With just a couple days left in my hometown. The main sport around here has been munching all snackily, alternating salty and sweet flavors interspersed with sips of wine or diet Coke. We've all decided that our holiday activities have required such a steady stream of fuel, whether it's being a Wii player or spectator, watching two little puppies play, making a trip to a megamall or having a big old-fashioned family Christmas with a 17 pound turkey and a beef filet the size of the countertop. There also was a drive up to Kenosha, Wisconsin today just over the Wisco-Illinois border to meet halfway with some dear Milwaukee-born friends at a little restaurant with a Wisconsin theme. There was beer and cheese soup on the menu, people. But I have also braved the cold and snow three times to go for a run around the neighborhood in this town where I did a lot of growing up. So that's physical and emotional work which means extra snacks for me. Good thing I brought along a big container of a buttery, sweet, salty, nutty brittle, drizzled with dark chocolate.

Before I head back to a busy new year of work in California, some of which will be on national television which usually features people who don't eat things like brittle or Chardonnay with potato chips, I really should start to scale back. The bottom of the brittle container is nearing, and I've decided that will be my stopping point. I mean, after the husband and I make a visit to the city tomorrow to visit our old neighborhoods and have a coffee at Julius Meinle, a big slice at Lou Malnati's, and a warm, crackling bag of Garrett's popcorn while walking along Michigan Avenue. And then I will stop. Because all good things, like a glorious hometown holiday eating tailspin, must come to an end.

Luckily, all good things have a beginning as well, and I blame this brittle as my undoing. It all came together quickly the night before our flight left San Francisco, a hybrid of several different brittle recipes I've collected. Among the laundry and phone calls and listmaking that come before a long vacation, there was still time to throw together this luscious, utterly satisfying candy. It's a versatile recipe that allows for a lot of creativity. Use whatever nuts you like or happen to have in your cupboards, roasted or raw. I used roasted cashews and found that the cooking candy toasted and darkened the nuts even further, and gave a complex, deep caramel, almost coffee-like flavor to the candy. The chocolate can be semi-sweet, dark, a mixture of both, or even white chocolate, a drizzle of which would be lovely with Marcona almonds in the mix, now that I think about it. If you'd prefer to keep it traditional, this recipe would be just as delicious with the chocolate omitted altogether and using raw peanuts for a straightforward, old-fashioned peanut brittle.

Whatever variations you choose to make this recipe your own, make sure you've got the process and cooking temperatures down before beginning. A candy thermometer is your best friend here, and a necessity to achieving the proper snap when it cools. It may be tough to keep the flame under your pot at a good level, but just keep your eye on your thermometer and if the candy is hanging out at the same temperature for too long before jumping up to hard crack stage, just give it a jolt of heat to get it up to the right temperature. And don't forget the baking soda--it seems like an odd ingredient here, but it's the key to creating a porous brittle that is pleasantly, not painfully, crunchy.

Other things worth noting with this recipe are that if there was ever a time to finally invest in some silicone baking mats, this is it. Also, this is a fun recipe to prepare with another person, and definitely makes the hurried stretching of the rapidly cooling candy much easier. And finally, HOT SUGAR IS AKIN TO MOLTEN LAVA. Please be very, very careful while stirring and handling the cooking candy. Thank you. And thank you, delicious nut brittle, for setting me up for my holiday gluttony with great, great joy.

Roasted Nut Brittle
Makes 2 1/2 pounds

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups roasted or raw nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or other sea salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Line two baking sheets with silicone mats, or with plenty of nonstick cooking spray.

Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Stir in the butter, and continue to stir frequently once it reaches 230 degrees.

When the cooking candy reaches 280 degrees, (soft-crack stage), add the nuts and begin stirring the mixture constantly until the temperature reaches 305 degrees (hard-crack stage). Remove the pot from the heat and quickly and carefully stir in the baking soda until completely incorporated--it will bubble intensely. Immediately pour the candy onto the prepared baking sheets. Immediately start stretching it thin by lifting and pulling from edges using two forks. Allow the slabs of brittle to cool completely. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave for 30 second increments, stirring often, until melted and a nice drizzling consistency. When the candy is cool, drizzle the chocolate Pollock-style all over the brittle. When the chocolate is set, break the into generous pieces. Store in an airtight container.

CandyShauna Sever