There are many ways of making peanut brittle at home. Most are easy, but no recipe is as simple as the one presented by Alton Brown on his show Good Eats (episode The Trick to Treats). I decided to try this recipe and see how it compares to others.
I can't eat too much peanut brittle at one time, so I decided to halve the recipe that Alton presents on his show. Alton started with lightly salted, roasted peanuts. I had blanched peanuts in my pantry, so I started by lightly toasting them in a small pan. Raw, blanched, or roasted all all good in brittle. If you've got raw or blanched, you can optionally follow this step to bring out a little bit of the toasted flavors. If you've got roasted peanuts, then skip ahead to ingredient assembly. Over medium heat, I kept the peanuts (3/4 cup) constantly moving and tossing them every ten seconds or so. This keeps the peanuts from burning while the heat is developing and concentrating the peanut flavors and smells. As the peanuts start to change color, I threw in a pinch of table salt (kosher grains are a bit large for peanuts). My constant tossing incorporated the salt evenly and when the peanuts became a light yellow with dark brown spots, I removed them from the heat into a medium bowl. [IMG]
Along with the 3/4 cup peanuts, I assembled 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1-1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 3/4 cup water. That's all - it's the shortest ingredient list for any peanut brittle recipe that I'm familiar with. [IMG]
I mixed the peanuts with cinnamon and cayenne pepper by tossing a couple times in the medium bowl. I was glad to see Alton Brown adding cayenne pepper to his peanut brittle. A bit of spiciness in sweets helps to heighten the flavors and punch of the other spices (like the cinnamon in this case). This is a "trick" well known to chocolatiers and made famous by the movie Chocolat. [IMG]
Over on the stove, I combined the water and sugar in a saucepan. I used a nonstick saucepan, but if you're using a traditional pan, then you'll want to rub the interior surface of the pan down with vegetable oil. Over medium-high heat, I dissolved the sugar into the water and brought it to a boil. At this point, I deviated slightly from Mr. Brown and added about a tablespoon of corn syrup to prevent unwanted crystalization. [IMG]
While the syrup was coming to a boil, I prepared a half sheet pan by dropping a Silpat baking sheet onto the pan. Silpat is probably the most popular brand for non-stick baking mats made by coating weaved fiberglass with a layer of food safe silicone. The sheets are reusable, easy to clean, durable, temperature resistant, and really, really non-stick. I find them invaluable for not just making pastries (the main use for silicone baking mats), but also for working dough, making oven baked steak fries, and of course, working with melted sugar. If you don't have a silicone baking sheet, just use parchment paper - but, I'd grease it with a lot of butter to ensure nothing will stikc (sugar is really sticky).
Once the syrup starts to boil vigorously, I tried out Alton's tip to cover the pot for three minutes to allow steam to collect and water to stream down the sides of the pan (to clean off any sugar on the sides of the pan). After the three minutes, I noticed that water had streamed back down, but not evenly. The pan was indeed cleaner, but not so much that I thought the step was useful, especially in light of what happens over the next ten minutes. As the water boiled off and the sugars started to heat up, additional sugar droplets were splattered onto the sides of the pan by the little bursting bubbles. Oh, well. When the sugar turns a light amber color (if you're using a candy thermometer, look for 350°F; like Alton, I eyeball most of my candies), we're ready to introduce the peanuts. [IMG]
Working quickly, I used a wooden spoon to mix in the peanuts and spices. It's important to work fast (and sure) from this point on because the syrup is rapidly cooling. While you are stirring, the syrup will foam up, but the high sides of your saucepan will save you from a mess. [IMG]
After the peanuts have been stirred in, I poured the syrup onto a silpat sheet. Syrup will flow out from the peanuts, so just use a silicone spatula or the wooden spoon to fold the excess sugar back onto the peanuts. As it thickens it won't flow anymore. At the same time, I used a silicone spatula (or back of wooden spoon) to press the peanuts down flat so you only have a single layer. [IMG]
After the brittle cooled (about thirty minutes), I wrapped it in plastic wrap and broke it into 1-1/2 to 2 inch pieces with my hands. I them placed them in air tight container and brought them to work. [IMG]
I found that the brittle was indeed simple to make and tasted quite good, but wasn't as light as some other recipes. Several recipes use baking soda (or a combination of tartaric acid with baking soda) to provide some additional lift to the syrup after cooking. This produces a lighter, crispier brittle. Another common practice is to preheat the baking pan (with silicone mat) to about 200°F so the syrup continues to flow, producing a thinner, lighter brittle.
A good way to take care of the crystals that form on the side of the walls of the pan is this: Keep a little bowl of water with your pastry brush in it. Instead of covering the pan (which most of the times means the water that drips down the walls through condensation is never even) every now and again just brush the TOP of the sides of the pans with the brush. The water that drips down is enough to solve the crystallisation problem. It's quick and easy and adaptable.
I used to be one of the professional chocolatiers you mentioned, though I just called myself a candy man. We avoided crystallization, as well, by brusing down the sides of our kettle with a brush and some nice clean water. I saw the same Good Eats episode and tried Alton's lemon-lime jelly candies. I thought they were way too rubbery.
Because of the suggestions I added 65 grams of sesame seeds (no other changes), tastes great, very crunchy. I would definitely miss them, maybe you can go as high as 100 grams extra. It sets very quickly, so be sure to just turn it once or twice and pour.
So...it was a nice fall day. I decided to do something fall-y and try to make peanut brittle. I'd seen Alton Brown make a delicious-looking batch a few days ago on his Food Network show, Good Eats, so I printed his recipe from their website. Looked simple enough, and the recipe was rated only medium difficulty. His recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. On his show he said it "balanced the sweetness" or something, so I figured I'd give it a try. It took me 15 minutes of looking at the spices in the grocery store to find out that it's called a generic "Red Pepper" with a tiny little Cayenne on the label. Grrrr. Anyway, got home, got my sugar and water boiling and waited for it to turn a "light amber" color. Alton doesn't use candy thermometers. From now on, I will. When it looked a light amber-ish color, I mixed in the peanuts and poured it out onto the prepared, Alton-advised buttered wax paper. Within seconds I could see the nice peanut brittle brown color change to a waxy-looking white. Uh-oh. Went to sugar. Oh well, I thought. Sugar is sugar. Still edible. I broke (well, more like crumbled) a little chunk off the corner and tasted. And then ran for the fridge for water. A half teaspoon of red pepper suddenly seems like so much! I mean...candy that can burn your tastebuds off?! Bad idea. But my roommate likes spicy, so I broke off a chunk for him. But alas, Alton's ingenious advice to spread boiling hot candy onto buttered waxed paper failed miserably. (Noticing a pattern here, Alton?) The wax had melted away and into the candy, and the waxed paper could not be removed. At least not without a microscope, a pair of tweezers, and a lot of time and patience. So the whole batch went into the garbage, along with my hopes and dreams. So I'm searching for Alton Brown's email (he can expect a very strongly worded letter from me!) along with a better recipe for peanut brittle.
Posted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 1:20 am Post subject: Clarifications
Good Eats, so I printed his recipe from their website.
First problem. The foodtv website only includes the recipes, and not nearly enough of the explanation. http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/ publishes the full transcripts of each show, which is probably better.
Alton doesn't use candy thermometers. From now on, I will.
Mr. Brown also has more experience than you cooking this stuff. Using a thermometer is hardly a crutch, and probably a really good idea if you're starting out (even if it's just the first time you try a recipe.)
Within seconds I could see the nice peanut brittle brown color change to a waxy-looking white. Uh-oh. Went to sugar. Oh well, I thought. Sugar is sugar.
Sounds like your sugar hadn't fully dissolved. Good chance a couple lingering crystals in there acted as a seed crystal, and the super-saturated sugar solution (woo! alliteration!) instantly crystallized on you. This is specificially the reason why Mr. Chu added corn syrup to his batch. It's a different type of sugar (fructose, I believe), and the incompatibilities in molecular shape help reduce the likelihood of all that sucrose lining up in the crystalline form it wants to.
But alas, Alton's ingenious advice to spread boiling hot candy onto buttered waxed paper failed miserably. (Noticing a pattern here, Alton?) The wax had melted away and into the candy, and the waxed paper could not be removed.
Again, this is why you should stick with parchment paper (no wax) or a silpat mat.
So I'm searching for Alton Brown's email (he can expect a very strongly worded letter from me!) along with a better recipe for peanut brittle.
I don't think it's public anymore. He used to have a contact form on his site, but that disappeared a few months ago.
I too tried the recipe out (in its original form) and ruined it. But to be honest, I didn't expect it to work on my first go-around. A little while after I removed the lid, I started noticing a little crystallization around the perimeter of the pan. I assume that was what ruined me, though it probably didn't help that I don't think my candy was really dark enough yet. It's pretty pale. Next time, I will try the pastry brush trick. I may not have made a brittle, but I still think it's delicious. And for the cost of more peanuts, I might as well try it until I get it right.