Sunday, November 29, 2009

Peanut brittle

I love peanut brittle.  It's one of those treats that is so good, and easy to prepare at home.  But there are pitfalls to doing a nut brittle at home -- caramelization of the sugar, and in particular, recrystallization of the sugar once it's poured.

I've figured out a few tricks.

1.  Do a wet caramel, and save yourself some indigestion.  Yes, you can make a caramel from just sugar melted and browned over heat, but it is so easy to burn and do wrong, it's not worth it.  Adding some water and starting out with a solution is much, much easier.  It takes a bit longer, but it's easier.

2.  Add a bit of corn syrup:  it prevents recrystallization of the sugar when it's poured over the nuts.  There are so many surfaces on salted nuts and so many opportunities for crystals to form on the salt crystals.  The corn syrup helps prevent the recrystallization.  I've had a few occasions making brittle of watching a beautiful, clear, amber caramel syrup turn into an opaque crystallized mess.  The resulting brittle is edible, but grainy.

3.  Toasting the peanuts in a non-stick foil-lined Pyrex dish helps on a few fronts.  (a) The non-stick foil is a great surface to do a brittle -- peels off without incident.  (b) The toasting helps the taste of the peanuts, and also helps if your nuts aren't too fresh (brittle is a great way to use up stale nuts), and (c) the Pyrex dish is a thermal insulator, so it retains heat very well.  When you're pouring the caramel syrup over the nuts in the hot glass dish, the caramel does not set up immediately, and has time to spread out and cover all the nuts before it solidifies.  It works very well. 

Peanut Brittle

2 cups salted cocktail peanuts
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 T white corn syrup
Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 350°F.

Line a 13" x 9" Pyrex baking dish with a sheet of Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Aluminum Foil, with the non-stick side up.  Add peanuts to the pan.  Toast in the oven about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Let boil until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Continue to boil until the syrup begins to take on a caramel color.  Watch it VERY carefully -- once it turns color, it will darken very quickly.  Swirl as necessary.  Do not stir it or touch it in any way.  Remove from the heat immediately when it has reached a pleasant amber color. 

Remove the baking dish with the peanuts and rest on a heatproof surface.  Pour the caramel over the peanuts, trying to cover all of them.  The heat of the dish will usually allow the caramel syrup to settle into place before it sets up.

Let cool fully, remove from the Pyrex dish, peel off the non-stick foil, and break into bite-size pieces.

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