Brittle is one of those dusty dinosaurs I pass up in the candy shop. Who wants that overly-sweet and dull filling-puller anymore? Those flavorless untoasted, unsalted peanuts staring at you from their sugar-glass tombs like a thousand sad eyes? Yeah no. It's the bottom of candy mountain.
Maybe it is because we are just starting to dip our toes into nostalgia-inducing autumn that I decided to dust off this codger candy and figure out how to update it a little, maybe even make it delicious.
First off, peanuts are out. Of course I have to admit I have a personal bias against peanuts and peanut butter because I find the entire peanut-flavor-world gross, but also there are just so many much more flavorful and interesting nuts worth employing in candy making. I tested this recipe with hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans and all were fantastic, so feel free to swap in your star nut.
I also tested this recipe with more nuts so that it looked like old fashioned peanut brittle, with the candy just serving as a thin mortar holding together a tightly-packed cobblestone street of nuts. But it was too nutty for me; it tasted like someone accidentally got a little sugar syrup into the nut bowl, so I pulled back and made it somewhat more proportionally akin to chocolate bark or toffee with inclusions. But you can definitely increase the nuts here if you want your nutty cobblestone street.
So onto the brittle. In order to make this hard candy less tooth-breaking and more, well, brittle, we add baking soda, which presents challenges. Side note--don't ever let anyone tell you that baking soda "adds bubbles" to candy/cake/whatever--it doesn't add any bubbles, just expands the air bubbles already present in any liquid/batter. Without it, our brittle would be as hard as a rock, so really we want a lot of baking soda for a nice light crunch. But baking soda also, you know, tastes like baking soda. Adding too much and you'll get that horribly bitter bite, the unmistakable baking soda error. But don't worry, that's not this--I use a little more baking soda than most recipes, but not so much that you can taste it.
We want an ideal nut, a good crispy texture, and lots of flavor. Most brittle recipes use a proportion of 2:1 white sugar and corn syrup, as the syrup helps stabilize the sugar crystallization. It's necessary, but flavorless--it's a no brainer then to sub honey for corn syrup as it imparts that beautiful, fragrant honey flavor, which is so nice with pistachios.
Butterwise, I noticed a lot of brittle recipes are surprisingly light on this key element--just a couple tablespoons. I doubled the amount so the brittle tastes noticeably buttery instead of just sugary. Pushing the butter envelope too far resulted in heavy, greasy candy, so it seems four tablespoons was the limit.
Pepper adds a savory note and a slight kick that is so welcome in super sweet candy--it's going to seem like a lot of pepper when you're grinding it out but I promise it's right. A pinch of cinnamon is there just to help scaffold that pepper in the flavor profile with some warmth, but feel free to add more if you want a distinct cinnamon flavor.
It's buttery, crunchy, amazingly flavorful, andIt's a pretty simple recipe, and yes you will need a candy thermometer (this is mine), but don't be intimidated. The incredibly addictive candy you'll have on your hands makes a perfect movie snack or the ideal gift--great for your gluten-free friends, and can be made vegan by swapping in vegan margarine. If a staunch brittle-hater like me can be converted into the kind of maniac who stashes a ziplock baggie of this stuff on her nightstand, you know it's a new day for this granny candy.
Honey Pepper Pistachio Brittle
Makes about 1 pound of candy
1 1/2 c. (300 g.) sugar
1/4 c. (85 g.) honey
1/4 c. (60 g.) water
4 Tbsp. (60 g.) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tsp. (3 g.) vanilla extract
1 tsp. (5 g.) baking soda
1/4 tsp. (1 g.) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. (3 g.) fine sea salt
1/4 tsp. (1 g.) freshly ground black pepper
1 c. (125 g.) roasted and salted pistachios
Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line with a silicone baking mat. Stir together baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Place butter and vanilla extract into a small bowl and place both bowls, along with the nuts, next to your stovetop.
In a heavy saucepan, bring water, sugar, and honey to a rolling boil over medium high heat and clip in your thermometer. Stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, cook to 260 degrees F (hard ball stage) which may take 10 to 15 minutes. Add vanilla and butter, then nuts, stirring to mix thoroughly.
Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes until mixture reaches 305 degrees F (hard crack stage). Remove from heat and mix in the baking soda mixture, stirring vigorously until the candy expands and foams uniformly. Quickly pour the candy onto the prepared baking sheet and spread lightly with a spatula so the mixture is even--but don't squish it around too much or you will pop all the precious bubbles that make your brittle crunchy. Allow to cool for about an hour and break into bite sized pieces. Be sure to store in an airtight container or the candy will lose its crunch.