A snack suitable for almost any holiday, peanut brittle seems an apt offering as we approach the year-end trilogy of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it can be much simpler to make than you may think. This recipe is about as easy as it gets — but also effortless to mess up.
Having not made it for decades — and not being sure of the recipe (see below) — I took this one into the newsroom for comments, and reporter Patrick Kernan seemed a tad surprised it could be made at home, assuming brittle required “some kind of special machine.”
Maybe in mass production, but this calls for a stove, a pan, a scraping/stirring implement and a buttered rimmed cookie sheet. Importantly, by skipping other ingredients required in many online recipes — corn syrup, water, butter, e.g. — it does not require a candy thermometer. Done right, you get comments like this:
“There’s something more than sweetness,” Patrick said, “It’s salty too. It’s a nice balance.”
“This is delicious,” Bill O’Boyle summed succinctly, an opinion echoed by Kevin Carroll with the addition of “I like it a lot.”
“My dentist will be upset, but I’m going to take some,” page designer Toni Pennello admitted, praising it after tasting, noting it’s thicker than other brittle she’s seen. Fellow designer Lyndsay Bartos also joked about defying her dentist, and said the brittle was great.
MT pointed out that she had never had fresh, home-made peanut brittle and that it tasted much better than the store-bought stuff. And editor Roger DuPuis, usually ready to go all gourmand in guessing ingredients and comparing to other dishes, had a much simpler reaction after his first sample.
“Please sir, may I have some more,” he said in his best Oliver! impersonation.
Heck, give me 30 minutes and the ingredients, and I can whip up another batch just for you.
All you’re doing is melting sugar, then stirring in (as quickly as possible) a little baking soda and the peanuts. But melting sugar requires constant stirring. I recommend a firm wooden implement with a flat edge, not a silicone scraper that can flex when you try to scrape the sugar from the bottom of the pan as it transforms from crystal to liquid.
Also, remove the pan from the heat and act as quickly as possible the moment the sugar is liquefied. It will set fast. Stir in the baking soda — it lightens the color and causes a foaming reaction that keeps the brittle from being too, well, brittle — and then the peanuts, and pour onto cookie sheet you definitely remembered to butter before you started.
If it seems thicker than usual, that’s partly because of how fast the sugar sets. Once you pour it out of the pan, you have little time to spread it thinner.
As to the “balance” of flavors cited by Patrick, I suspect some of what sets this apart from other brittles is your choice of peanuts. Some recipes call for adding a little salt along with the baking soda, but salted peanuts can take care of that. I’ve almost always opted for Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts (regular, not lightly salted), which brings more to the table. Along with a dash of sea salt, they are seasoned with celery, dried onion, dried garlic, paprika and sugar. Nothing overpowers, but it does “kick it up a notch” as Emeril Lagasse likes to say.
I can’t stress enough the “just melted” part of heating the sugar. Even letting a few bubbles form can create a burnt taste that spoils the finished brittle. I speak from experience.
Not using a candy thermometer does mean this may come out a bit different than the more complicated versions, and may become a bit sticky after sitting a while — At one point I heard Roger, usually out of my line of sight, say “Now the phone is ringing and my hands are sticky!” But it’s never lasted very long, and ages ago when mom sold homemade lollipops and sweets to raise money for the religious sisters who hosted her annual retreat (a respite from taking care of nine kids) we made this, put it wax paper in a box, and sold it the festival in the Oblates Seminary gym.
One last tip: Some recipes call for chopping the peanuts. It’s an option, but I think it’s a waste of time that can diminish the peanut flavor in the end.
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup peanuts (I use Planters Dry Roasted)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Butter a rimmed cookie sheet. Put sugar in pan over medium low/medium heat and stir constantly until just melted to a light brown. Remove from heat immediately and, working quickly, stir in baking soda, then peanuts. Spread on sheet and let cool to the touch. Break into bite size pieces (just lift one end and start smashing into the sheet), and serve or store for later.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish