Monday, December 20, 2010

Salted Mixed Nut Brittle—The Best Nut Brittle Ever

Lest you think that I'm tooting my own horn, let me assure you that "Best-Ever Nut Brittle" was the exact title of this recipe when it was published in a December issue of Food & Wine a few years back. I love this remarkable recipe and think more people should know about it. The recipe is an adaptation of a recipe by Karen DeMasco, the pastry chef at New York City's Craft. I would be interested in seeing the original, but I have a hard time imagining that it is any better. As is, it truly is the best brittle I have ever made or eaten.

So, what makes it the best? I am inclined to think that it is the unusual use of salted, roasted nuts. The salt is a wonderful addition, complimenting the flavor of both the caramelized sugar and the nuts.  And since most nut brittles use raw nuts, I can only assume that the use of roasted nuts also contributes to the superiority of this brittle.  In typical peanut brittle recipes the raw nuts are added in the early stages of the cooking process. They are effectively cooked as the sugar syrup cooks, imparting their flavor to the candy brittle in the process. You would think that this would produce the best flavored brittle...but apparently this is not true. Of course, the presence of cashews, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts in addition to the more usual peanuts doesn't hurt the final product either.

Another important difference in this recipe is the amount of butter used. Most brittle recipes that I have come across use very little butter...and some don't use any. The relatively large quantity of butter in this recipe pushes its flavor and texture in the direction of toffee. Although, I don't think someone tasting this for the first time would think they were eating toffee. They would just think they were eating the best brittle they had ever put in their mouth.

I have only made one small change to this recipe. Since the nuts are added at the end, if they have been kept at a cool room temperature, their addition causes the brittle to become very stiff immediately. I place the nuts in a 300° oven when the sugar syrup starts to boil—this way, when they are added to the syrup, they are the same temperature as the syrup. The brittle stays fluid for a longer period of time and is consequently much easier to spread out into a thin layer.

I would only emphasize a couple of other things for the novice candy maker. Every time you make candy from a recipe that begins with dissolving sugar in water (alone or along with other ingredients), always make sure that all of the sugar is dissolved before you begin to boil the mixture. And always brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water (or a folded paper towel dipped in water if you don't own a pastry brush) to dissolve any remaining sugar granules. Do this even if the recipe doesn't direct you to. Even one undissolved granule of sugar left in the pan can encourage the entire batch of candy to re-crystallize—either while it is cooking or while it is cooling. As a further protection against crystallization, I never put my candy thermometer into the pan until all of the sugar is dissolved. To protect the thermometer from possible damage caused by a rapid change temperature change, I hold it in a glass of very hot water until I need it. 

I have been making and giving this brittle for Christmas gifts every year since I discovered the recipe. I encourage you to make a batch (or two...or three...) and give it away to your family and friends. In the coming years you will experience a surge of pleasure when you give it to someone again and see a pair of eyes light up when they recognize "the" nut brittle.

Salted Mixed Nut Brittle

2 c. sugar
½ c. water
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 c. light corn syrup (110 g)
½ t. baking soda
12 oz. roasted salted mixed nuts (peanuts, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans and/or almonds)
Fleur de sel (or substitute another coarse sea salt)

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.

Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is light brown and registers 300°F on a candy thermometer—about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble and foam. Stir in the nuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto a large rimmed baking sheet—either non-stick or well greased (grease the sheet before you begin to cook the brittle so it will be ready when the candy is). Using the back of a large, oiled spoon or heat-proof spatula, spread the brittle into a thin, even layer (the mixture will be stiff, so you’ll have to work at it a bit). Sprinkle with the fleur de sel. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Break into pieces and store air-tight.

Makes slightly less than 2 pounds brittle.

(From Food & Wine, December 2007)

Note: The brittle goes together more easily if you place the nuts in a 300° oven while the syrup boils—that way the nuts don’t bring down the temperature of the candy syrup when they are added.


Katrina said...

I'm dying to make this, but scared. ;) Seriously, my issues with crystalized sugar scare me. I know someone in Kevin's family who loves brittle, so it would be fun to make this for her.
It could be a fun challenge for me.
Have a wonderful Christmas, Paige!

Paige said...

Katrina--I have never had this brittle crystallize. The corn syrup acts as a bit of protection. Let me know how yours turns out. And have a Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am planning to make tthen today. What If i use nuts thats are not roasted? Apart from flavor will the chemistry change?

Paige said...

I'm assuming that if the nuts are raw that they aren't salted either. So there will be differences from the absence of salt and from the fact that the nuts are raw. As you note, there will be a definite flavor difference.

Beyond that I think their will be quite a bit of difference in texture. Raw nuts are not as tender as roasted/toasted nuts. Most nut brittle recipes that call for raw nuts--typically "raw spanish peanuts"--add the nuts early on (after the sugar has dissolved) so that the nuts roast in the syrup as it cooks to temperature. If I were you, I would be inclined to search for a recipe like that, rather than use this one that adds the nuts at the end (on the assumption that they are already roasted).

The salt too is important for texture, I think. I can't give you technical chemistry reasons for this, because honestly, its more of a hunch--but I think the presence of the salt from the nuts IN the brittle (not just on the surface) does something to the sugar structure that makes the brittle more tender.

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Thank u very much.....I will try it with Salted n Roasted nuts. In India, the brittle sold in the market does not have any salt at is transparent in color and Cardamom powder is used to infuse falvor. Hence, my query.

Paige said...

You're welcome! You will find this brittle to be quite different from what you are used to...I hope you like it. The cardamom infused brittle sounds delicious!

JP said...

This is the peanut brittle I have been making for years. I found it in a cookbook and have never looked back. I do think the butter in the recipe makes all the difference, and of course the salt. I am happy to be able to "PIN" this recipe as I am always worried about losing recipes. Your tip about keeping the nuts warm is great, sometimes it is difficult to get all the brittle stretched out before it gets too hard, harder because in this family we never make a single batch. Right now I am making it and keeping the nuts warm. Thank you for that tip!

Paige said...

JP, thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes...this really is the best :). I hope the tip about keeping the nuts warm made a difference for you. BTW, if you like this recipe, you should give the Chocolate Almond Toffee ( a try too.

Katrina said...

I've made this every year since 2010 now. Love it. Just finished this year's batch. Now to not snitch too much......

Paige said...

Thanks Katrina! I've made two batches so far this year...and will probably make another before the holiday is over...

staxy said...

Have made this twice now and it's a huge hit. Seriously the best brittle recipe I've ever seen!

Paige said...

I'm so glad you like it! Thanks for letting me know. I still make it every year... I found that when I didn't make it, people noticed and asked for it!

Anonymous said...

If doubling recipe what size cookie sheet

Paige said...

I'm sorry I didn't respond to your question about the size cookie sheet. I am only now seeing this comment for the first time (10 months after you left it!). Anyway, you would need what we call a "full sheet pan" in restaurants. Most home cooks don't have something this large. One recipe pretty much fills a standard size cookie sheet (a "half sheet pan"). In practice, when I make this in a home kitchen, I make it twice instead of doubling the recipe. Candies are a bit touchy and your stove might not have the power to handle a larger batch efficiently. If you are still comfortable doubling the batch, just use two standard cookie sheets and put half the mix on each.

Renee said...

I just made this wonderful nut brittle again (as I have for several Christmases) and it never fails. It makes an impressive gift and is really not difficult (as long as you have a good candy thermometer). Thanks so much for sharing it!

Paige said...

I'm so happy to hear you are enjoying this recipe so much! Thank you for taking the time to let me know. I think this is the first year I have not made any of this brittle (I'm not seeing as many people...and not making as many gifts)...but I love it so much I may have to make a batch for myself in the next week or two. Merry Christmas!