It’s the holiday season. What better way to celebrate and share with people close to us than by making peanut brittle? Peanut brittle is a favourite in my household. My grandma made it just about every few days from the week before Thanksgiving to the wee after the new year. She’d give it to everyone: church members, family, friends, her local butcher.
People assume candy making is hard, but it’s really not. It is a test of patience though. Sugar goes from malleable, gooey goodness to rock-hard, burned crap in just a few minutes. If you’re not paying attention or are multitasking, candy making can go very poorly. Still with me? Good, let’s get into it.
A heavy, straight sided pot (2-4 quarts) – Heavy is relative, but you want something with enough mass to keep the heat. Those cheap pots you get at the grocery store won’t cut it here. I recently bought a pot for about $40 that works well for me.
Candy thermometer – I have a round thermometer that I got at the grocery store. However, the tall, straight candy thermometer works better. Not only does it stay out of the way of your spoon, but you can also see the reading without sticking your head in a pot of molten sugar.
Wooden Spoon – Maybe it’s tradition that makes me use it, but I worry about silicone in the syrup mixture. A wood spoon won’t burn in the mixture and actually cleans really well.
A cooling slab – DO NOT COOL YOUR CANDY ON A LAMINATE OR WOOD COUNTER-TOP. You will ruin them. However, marble or smooth granite works well. I have two off cuts of marble passed down from my grandma that I use.
1 c. light corn syrup
2 c. granulated white sugar
1/2 c. water
2 c. raw, red skinned peanuts.
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Heat the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in the pot. Stir the mixture till the sugar has just about dissolved. Prep your cooling slab by cleaning it and lubricating it with some oil. At 235 degrees (the thermometer might read “soft ball”) add the peanuts and stir to fully incorporate into the syrup. At 275 degrees, continuously stir the mixture. This is the critical stage. At 290 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and add the butter and baking soda, mixing well to combine. Pour the mixture onto the slab. Use the spoon to spread the middle of the candy puddle towards the edges. After 30 seconds or so (the mixture should be the consistency of a thick oatmeal) flip the puddle over and begin to stretch the candy. When you feel you’ve stretched enough, let it cool completely and then break the puddle into pieces and package.
Tip: try to make the peanut to candy ratio pretty even when you stretch the candy. You’ll want a peanut or two in every bite of peanut brittle someone take.
Right off the bat, let’s calibrate the thermometer. Put some water in a pot to boil and put your thermometer in it. Water boils at 214 degrees F (give or take depending on your altitude, but it’s hard to be exact on non-digital thermometers) and we want to make sure the thermometer reads 214 degrees. If it doesn’t, make sure to take that in to account for the other temperatures in this recipe.
Prep your kitchen space while you wait for the water to boil. You won’t want to waste time looking for something or cleaning up once the sugar is on the pot. As I said earlier, you will want to be patient and vigilant to keep the brittle from burning. Clean and oil the candy slab, measure out your ingredients into bowls or cups so you can easily dump them when needed. The pay off for this early prep is tremendous. Once the prep is done, you can check your thermometer and move on.
Add the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt into the pot and mix till the sugar isn’t a pile in the bottom of the liquid. I didn’t stir once and it was a very toasty flavored peanut brittle. I have an electric stove; I use medium-high heat all the way through the candy making process. I’ve made candy on a gas stove before, but I don’t remember the gas mark. Just use caution and experiment. If your heat is too high and heats things up too quickly, you will burn the sugar. You’ve been warned.
At about 225 degrees, the water that we added earlier and the water in the corn syrup solution will begin vaporizing. It’s pretty spectacular. One second, steam is coming out of the pot like normal, the next, it looks like a steam engine. And the temperature will hold around 225 seemingly forever. Don’t freak out. It’s normal. The steam will go back to normal around when we want to add the peanuts, at 235 degrees. Mix the peanuts in.
We’re not going to stir the peanuts or disturb them that often until 280 degrees. We’re sugar frying the peanuts and we need them to be in constant heat or the peanuts will be partially cooked. If you sense that they may be burning though, either by smell or visually the candy is turning a dark brown, then stir! And while stirring, turn down the heat. You might have it up to high.
At 280 degrees, constantly stir. Not frantically. We’re not making whipped cream. (Side note: taffy is the whipped cream of candy. It’s made by pulling and stretching the candy to incorporate air into the candy.) Stir with meaning, scrapping the bottom and sides to make sure the candy isn’t burning. This is the stage where the syrup will start to brown, giving the peanut brittle it’s famous color. Be vigilant! This is the worst time to step away as it is very easy to burn all of your hard work.
295 degrees: take the pot off the heat. Work quickly. Add the butter and the baking soda to the pot and mix in. It will start to foam like a 5th grade science project volcano. Don’t worry and keep mixing. You want the butter and baking soda to be well incorporated. Once fully mixed, pour the mixture onto the cooling slab, making sure to scrape the sides of the pot. (It’ll make cleaning easier and will add more mixture to the final product. No use wasting sugar.) Use the spoon to spread the middle of the candy puddle towards the edges. We’re trying to make sure the puddle is uniform in thickness to help it cool more evenly.
After 30 seconds or so (the mixture should be the consistency of a thick oatmeal) flip the puddle over and begin to stretch the candy. I start pulling from the edges, making sure to stretch out the parts that are cooler than the rest first. Then I’ll start to stretch the center. When pulled real thin, the candy looks like plastic wrap, which is exactly what you’re trying to do. Thin out the super clusters of nuts. You’ll want at least a few peanuts in every bite.When you feel you’ve stretched enough, let it cool completely and then break the puddle into pieces and package. Congratulations! You are the proud maker of some world class peanut brittle.
Candy making is very rewarding. Not only do you have a sweet treat as a result, but people get super impressed. I urge you to give it a shot. I hope that this peanut brittle recipe gives you some reassurance and