Best friends with ice cream, unexpected pal of crunch-necessitating dishes and all-around crunchy ally of nearly every nut and seed, brittle goes beyond the tooth-coating peanut kind. Brittle being by definition seeds or nuts mixed into melted sugar, all you need is a bit of imagination to see the possibilities in brittle-dom that lie ahead. Spiced Rosemary-pine nut brittle with sea salt crushed on top of salmon? Sichuan peppercorn peanut brittle for spice lovers in your family or office? Spiced pumpkin seed brittle on top of cinnamon ice cream? You see where this is headed.
Embarking on your (possibly) first DIY brittle crusade isn’t as daunting as it sounds, as long as you’ve got a few things: Nuts or seeds, sugar, and most important, kitchen confidence. You’ll often hear chefs say that they don’t bake or do sweets because it’s such a precision game, with exact quantities of various powders and sodas needed to make a recipe perfect. Brittles, however, are far more cooking than they are baking, despite the use of sugar. Sugar is melted in a pot or in a pan, and then depending on the type of brittle you’re making, things like butter, maple syrup and other ingredients are added in, but it’s the sugar melting process that can be intimidating.
To pull off a successful sugar melt, go into the process knowing that you might mess it up the first time around. The good thing is, it’s just sugar, and you won’t have to throw away expensive nuts, as you’ll know before dumping anything in if you’ve gone too far in the cooking process. One way to help ensure your brittle doesn’t become scorched is by using a heavy-bottomed pan with even heating, and a steady heat source. Electrolux’s induction cooktops are perfect for a process like brittle, as consistent heat takes all the guesswork out of cooking with sugar.
Another tool that will be your brittle guardian angel is a candy thermometer – essentially a normal thermometer that has indicators of the different stages sugar goes through as more and more heat is applied. Brittle becomes brittle at the 300 degrees Fahrenheit mark, which is noted as the “hard crack” stage on candy thermometers. The name is pretty self-explanatory: When sugar is heated to 300 degrees and then cooled down, it will be hard, and have a good shattering quality to it, as opposed to “soft crack” cooked candies, which will be more bendable, like soft caramels. The candy thermometer is not essential, as many home cooks prefer to go by eye and color as opposed to this method, but you might need to rely on a thermometer your first time. Plus, you can use candy thermometers for other cooking applications like deep frying, so it doesn’t hurt to have around.
Once you’ve hit hard crack stage, you can go “pure” – see, no butter or fats added – for maximum crunch and a clear, glass-like color. Adding butter or heavy cream will give it that classic cloudy butterscotch look to the eye, and also add a creaminess to your brittle. There’s no right or wrong method – it’s mostly preference based on taste and how confident you are in your dental integrity. Then, this is where the anarchist side of cooking comes into play: You can really mix in anything you’d like. Nuts and seeds work great, but so do hearty herbs like rosemary and thyme, or spice cabinet items like sesame seeds, cardamom pods or cinnamon.
Once all of your ingredients are incorporated, all you have to do is pour out the brittle onto a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper – or use a silicone baking liner if you have one. Allow your brittle to cool, and then crack away with a kitchen mallet or with the back of a heavy knife.