(Note: Today’s Daily Photo is of making Peanut Brittle…my lovely wife was gracious enough to add the commentary to the images I took while she was making the brittle. All photos taken with an iPhone 6. Also, if you click the images, you’ll get a larger view.)
This is the season for the annual making of peanut brittle. Hard as it is to believe, once upon a time, nobody went to the store for candies – such delights were made at home! There are two schools of thought about peanut brittle: the ‘flat as glass’ school and the ‘bubbly brittle’ method. I am a fan of the bubbly brittle and will have no truck with the flat, tough, and often undercooked ‘glass’ school! I also am old school in my opinion that only a deep iron skillet is a fit candy making vessel.
The first picture shows the candy syrup, made of 1/2 c. water, 2 c, sugar, and 1 c.corn syrup (also once a year purchase of that rarely used commodity in this house) as it hits “thread stage”. This little test is how I tell if I am approaching the various “ball stages” of candy testing. I don’t use a thermometer as I find it inferior and not adjustable to weather conditions. You see, candy making is best done in dry calm clear weather — when the barometer is rising. Winter does not offer this ideal condition often, so testing the old way is more reliable.
As you can see, cooking candy syrup is hot work, no animals or children are allowed near the kitchen while this goes on. Some old recipes use only sugar and water and cook till caramelization occurs; then they add already roasted chopped peanuts! This does not lend the same deeply peanut flavor in my opinion. Thus, we cook to one stage and then basically sugar roast the raw Spanish peanuts in the syrup in the final cooking stage.
Testing the ball stage in peanut brittle making is done by dropping a bit of the hot syrup into a small bowl of cold water. When it cools briefly, you gather it up and press it into a ball. Brittle is cooked until the “hard ball” stage…it should have very little give to finger pressure. Now is the time to add 1 T. unsalted butter and 2 c. of raw Spanish peanuts.
The peanuts will cool the syrup and it will bunch up around the nuts. Stir rapidly so the peanuts do not burn on any thus denuded skillet bottoms. A stout wooden spoon is the best stirring tool from this point onward. It will soon heat up, re-liquify and start boiling again. From here on out, you will go by your nose. It is getting done when the pink papery skins start browning and a smell of roast peanuts rises from the pan.
If you were to attempt the thread stage test now, it would barely drop before becoming so light it would blow sideways in the hot air currents. If you did the water test, it would be at the “crack stage” and might even explode out in a three dimensional starburst in the water bowl. Now you turn off the heat and add the 1 tsp. vanilla, stirring it in rapidly before it evaporates away. The color will deepen to a reddish brown.
Finally, the moment of magic, the final ingredient is 2 tsp baking soda Prepare to stir rapidly. And your prepared edged baking sheet should be well buttered and near at hand!
Stirring the soda in is the most exciting part, it provides all the salty flavor you could want, no other salt is needed. The pan turns into a golden brown froth of candy lava. You need a strong arm, a good hot pad and a heat proof silicone spatula for the last moment: lifting the hot skillet and pouring the molten brittle out onto the prepared cookie sheet on a heat-proof surface.
Now it is poured and should be left utterly undisturbed until it is fully cooled. The glass brittle school would have greatly reduced the soda content leading to less bubbles, and at this point they would stir/swirl what bubbles remained OUT of the brittle as it lies hot and innocently vulnerable on the cookie sheet! Blasphemy, I tell you!
When it is cooled, the moment my children waited for arrives. Lift the plate of cold brittle with a metal spatula. Turn it over and tap it with a heavy knife handle, whereupon it will fall in sweet peanuty shards of bliss! Store it in a can, air tight…though it won’t get time to get stale if there are any real brittle lovers in the area.