Every year when I make peanut brittle I sort of smile to myself. Gene will eat a couple of pieces and I taste it but that's about it. I make it for my dad and brothers and sisters. I've said before that the happiest times in our home growing up were the holidays because my mom was a fantastic cook and she loved making candy, cookies, breads, you name it, to give as gfts, take to school parties (back when you could take homemade food), and for our big family party always the first Saturday after Christmas.
As the oldest daughter I was her sargeant-at-arms in the kitchen EXCEPT when she made nut brittle. Because of the heat in candy making she banished everyone from the kitchen for the afternoon and made a half dozen batches using different nuts, and she did so every single year. It was a smorgasbord of nut brittles. While she worked, it was the one time I got to happily curl up in the window of my room with a book, thankful that I didn't have to be the dishwasher/ingredient runner. It was a win-win.
Somehow I did learn how to make it, though, and everything else in her repetoire, something the other daugher and all three boys managed to escape. You always think your mom will be around forever to make all of your favorite goodies, but for us, that didn't turn out to be the plan, so each year I try to make most of all of our favorites from childhood for the our big extended family party and we remember mom and how much work and love she put into making our holidays wonderful by using her gifts of cooking and knitting.
The secret to good peanut/cashew/almond brittle is in the proportions and temperature. You have to go to 295 degrees F (hard crack stage) to get the candy to harden, as opposed to 234 degrees F (soft ball stage) for fudge or caramels. Other than those to things, the ingredients are nearly the same: sugar, corn syrup, nuts, vanilla, etc.
The proportion is 1:1:1/2:1/4. Those ingredients being: 1 portion nuts to the same portion sugar to half that amount of corn syrup to one quarter the original amount in water. The reason I like the proportion method is that it can all depend on how many nuts you have (sounds kinda dirty). After you measure your nuts (I can hear you laughing, Sally) the math is easy. For example, the most common measurements are:
1 cup peanuts (or pecans, cashews, pistachios, or whole almonds)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Cook's note: A decent sized batch covering a large rimmed baking sheet (in bakery terms: a half sheet) is double these numbers as in the recipe below.
The reason behind the proportions is texture. While the temperature of the mixture contols the hard/soft quality, the sugar/corn syrup/water ratios control the stickiness and the baking soda creates the brittleness of the candy vs lollipop type hard candy.
Glenna's Nut Brittle
Recipe by Glenna Anderson Muse
Cook's note: Have the second set of ingredients out and ready to go at your fingertip. These need to be stirred in quickly at the end. You can mix the dry ingredients together.
Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or rub with butter and set aside.
In a dutch oven over medium high heat, bring the following four ingredients to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 295 degrees F:
2 cups Nuts (Spanish peanuts, cashews, almonds, etc)
2 cups Sugar
1 cup light Corn syrup
1/2 cup Water
At 295 degrees, the mixture will start to caramelize and the drops leaving the edge of the wooden spoon will throw little strings off the ends of the droplets.
Take the pan off the heat and as quickly as possible, stir in:
2 Tbsp butter
Dash of salt
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp Cardamom (Optional but a personal favorite)
1 Tbsp baking soda
Once these ingredients have been added and stirred in, the mixture will become quite foamy and opaque and turn a much lighter yellowy gold color, rather than the pinkish hue of the peanut skins.
Pour mixture out onto baking sheet and spread quckly with back of the wooden spoon. When brittle is thoroughly cooled, have fun breaking into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
Makes one 18 x 15 rimmed baking sheet and stores (with a few "tasting" pieces left over into a "deep dish" (64 fluid oz) disposable storage container.
Cook's note: Cardamom. While unusual in its presence in nut brittle, I highly recommend it. It doesn't leave a taste significally cardamom as much as it, like vanilla, enhances the buttery sweetness.