December 19, 2014

Peanut Brittle is the Best Thing Ever!

Cooking is all about science, but few recipes combine chemistry, tastiness, simplicity, and holiday cheer like peanut brittle! In this special holiday blog post, I will reveal my secret to amazingly awesome peanut brittle, complete with fun animated illustrations!

Peanut is easy and fun to make and delicious to boot!

Stephen’s Secret Recipe

Although geeks love him, Alton Brown’s peanut brittle recipe is totally wrong. I appreciate his suggestion of cayenne pepper to perk up the flavor, but disagree with just about everything else in his instructions. He makes a kind of peanut hard candy that is not recognizable to me. And he skips one of the most fun and beneficial chemical reactions! So, although you might want to watch this video, follow my recipe instead of his.

What To Buy

My peanut brittle recipe comes from a very secret and specialized source. It is a red book of recipes that has been handed down for generations in many American families… And I swear by it!

Note: This makes two batches of peanut brittle. Why two? Because it’s so delicious you’ll wish you made two batches, and it’s easy enough to make it now instead of waiting! I suppose you could make half as much, but why would you?

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs of peanuts – Raw/unroasted work best but any will do. I strongly suggest unsalted. And no shells!
  • 2 cups of light corn syrup – Karo is the name brand here, though off-brand works fine too. Corn syrup is not evil; it keeps the sugar playing nicely while heating!
  • 3 cups of white granulated sugar
  • 2 cups of water – This is used to dissolve the sugar and disappears while cooking
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter – I use regular salted butter, though I imagine margarine or unsalted butter works too.
  • 3 teaspoons of baking soda – I recommend buying a fresh box to make sure it really works well! This is The Secret Ingredient that Alton Brown totally missed!
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla – I use “pure vanilla extract” but I guess imitation would work too.
  • 2 teaspoons of water – Again, this suspends the baking soda and disappears instantly when you add it.

Tools:

  • One large non-stick saucepan
  • One long-handled wooden spoon – Do not use a plastic spoon unless you like strands of melted plastic in your candy!
  • One candy thermometer – I prefer the dial type, since the bulb type doesn’t stand up to vigorous stirring.
  • Two one-cup measuring cups, one with a half-cup mark – How much cups could one cup cup if one cup could cup cups? One works, but two is better!
  • Two one-teaspoon measuring spoons – I suppose one would do, but two makes it easier!
  • Two baking pans or cookie sheets
  • One small bowl
  • One teaspoon – or you can use one of the measuring spoons
  • One hot stove!

How To Make Peanut Brittle

Add one cup of water, one cup of corn syrup, and one and a half cups of sugar to your saucepan and set it on your stove. Turn the burner to high and stir it occasionally. Set the candy thermometer in the pan to monitor the temperature. You are now breaking down the sugar crystals into hot liquid candy!

We just added the water to the sugars and now we’re going to boil it away!

While you’re boiling the water, take a minute to prepare for the end of the process. Do not sample the hot liquid candy. It’s not delicious and will burn your gullet.

Open the peanuts. Cut off a 3 tablespoon chunk of butter. You’ll need these at the same moment pretty soon so keep them handy! You can eat a few peanuts if you can’t wait, but do not eat the butter…

Use some more butter to grease both cookie sheets. I like to heat them up in the oven first (200 degrees ought to do) and leave them there until I need them at the end. One stick of butter will divide perfectly into two 3-tablespoon lumps plus four greased cookie sheets. Neat!

It’s also time to mix 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 teaspoon of water, and 1.5 teaspoons of baking soda in the little bowl. This is the catalyst for light non-dentally-dangerous peanut brittle! It won’t combine, so just do your best to keep it stirred until you need it.

The bubbling mixture on the stove will stay at 212 degrees (the boiling point) for a while while the water vaporizes. Then you’ll see the temperature start creeping up.

At 240 degrees the sugar reaches “soft crack” stage. Yes, that’s really a cooking term. It makes a different sound while bubbling and has a nice thickness to it while you stir!

Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees, you’re ready to add the butter and peanuts. Just dump them in.

This will make it much harder to stir, which is ironic since now you have to stir it constantly to keep it from burning! And your candy thermometer will have trouble staying in the candy. Just work to make sure it’s reading right!

I like to use a back-and-forth folding action rather than a round-and-round stir.

While you’re stirring the peanut-butter-candy mixture with one hand, keep an eye on the temperature. It will fall a bit at first, then start rising again. Be ready. When it reaches 300 degrees you have a lot of work to do very quickly!

As you near 300 degrees, make sure to stir the little bowl of baking soda and vanilla. It won’t mix, but you want the baking soda to stay suspended in the water so it will distribute when you dump it in!

When you’re almost to 300, make sure your greased baking sheets are ready to use. Set them on a cooling rack or pot holder – they’re going to get hot! Again, Alton Brown’s recipe heats the candy too hot, making it harder than necessary.

The baking soda mixture won’t really mix, but get it ready with a quick stir!

At 300 degrees you’re ready for action. Stop. Look. Make sure the baking soda and cookie sheets are ready. Get the dog and the kids out of the way. This is hot and dangerous!

Turn off the heat. While stirring constantly, dump in the baking soda mixture. Keep your face and arms out of the way because it will steam and hiss and foam and go nuts!

You are most likely to get injured or make a huge mess at this point!

Keep stirring for a moment to get it evenly mixed. Then pick up the saucepan and dump half the candy on one cookie sheet and the rest on the other. It will make two nice big round blobs. Do not delay in pouring it out! It will foam up and get all over the stove, the floor, the dog, and the kids. This is really bad and will result in emergency room visits!

Leave the candy alone on the cookie sheets and fill the saucepan with hot water from the tap to clean it out. You’ll be thinking you just ruined your saucepan, spoon, and thermometer, but don’t worry. The water will dissolve the sugar quickly and you’ll be left with nice, clean tools to start over on the second batch!

Once the candy has cooled, set it aside in an airtight container. Sneak some for yourself. Now do it all again!

Stephen’s Stance

It’s brilliant to turn mundane ingredients (sugar, corn syrup, baking soda, peanuts) into delicious candy. Follow these steps and you’ll be amazed at the result! And have a wonderful holiday!

  • Laura Foley

    Thanks so much for sending us this peanut brittle for Christmas! Unfortunately for Mike Foley, he doesn’t like peanuts. Too bad for him, because my older boy, Henry, and I ate it all in one night! I can’t wait to try this recipe myself.