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 are 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.}?>
Good Eats Peanut Brittle (makes about 30 pieces)
|3/4 cup (105 g) peanuts||combine||mix quickly||pour onto silicone sheet||flatten, cool, break|
|1/4 tsp. (0.6 g) cinnamon|
|1/4 tsp. (0.5 g) cayenne pepper|
|1-1/2 cup (300 g)granulated sugar||combine||boil until amber|
|3/4 cup (180 mL)water|