The pre-packaged Halloween cookies and candy are ready and waiting for the tricker or treaters. And hopefully they will be out braving the wintery weather tonight (a most terrible trick played by Mother Nature this year). A part of me that wishes these were 'Little House on the Prairie Days' where the Halloween treats were homemade instead of store bought (although back then a store bought treat may have been more coveted and treasured than one homemade). Years ago in the neighborhood I lived in my treats for the kids in my immediate neighborhood were actually homemade. The year I did not have the warm chocolate chip cookies waiting for them when they came to door and instead had a tray of pre-packaged cookies and candy was one where I think at least one of them considered egging the house. Needless to say, the homemade chocolate chip cookies returned the following year. Had I been making candies back then, the adult neighbors accompanying their children on this annual candy collecting trek would be given a bag of peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle is an American confection originating in the South or so some would like to believe. One legend attributes its' creation to a Southern woman who in 1890 mistakenly added baking soda instead of cream of tartar to a batch of taffy. Instead of a chewy taffy, the mixture became a crunchy brittle. Another version of its' origin is grounded in Southern folklore. The fabled hero Tony Beaver (a cousin of Paul Bunyan) is alleged to have saved a town from a flood by pouring peanuts and molasses into the river (it must have been a hot, raging river). This ingenuity not only prevented widespread damage to the town but resulted in the creation of brittle. Whether or not peanut brittle was actually created as a result of a mistake or a legendary save of a fictional town, this is one delicious sweet-salty-crunchy confection.
There is something rather addictive about peanut brittle. A sweet salty combination, made very slightly more salty with the finishing touch of sea salt isn't as hard to make as I had thought. Being more of a visual learner, watching someone make peanut brittle at a cooking demonstration one day had me thinking 'and why did I think was so hard'. Isn't it funny how we sometimes make things more difficult than they really are?
When shopping for the ingredients I couldn't remember if I needed raw Spanish peanuts or roasted salted Spanish peanuts (this is why I shouldn't be trying new recipes without having a list with me). I ended up buying the roasted salted Spanish peanuts and fortunately still had pretty good results with the brittle. Reading Fine Cooking's article on Putting the Buttery Crunch in Peanut Brittle I learned raw peanuts not only contribute to enhancing the flavor of the peanut brittle, but they can be added in early in the cooking process. Roasted nuts should be added in at the end of the cooking time as they are subject to burning and giving the brittle a bitter taste. If using any other nuts (cashews, walnuts, pecans) when making the brittle, they should too should be added near the cooking process or when the candy thermometer reaches 290 degrees.
The brittle fairies must have been watching over me because I added the the Roasted Salted Peanuts at the beginning and not at the end of the cooking process. Not wanting to take any chances these fairies won't be around the next time I make this brittle, I will make two changes: Buying and using the raw Spanish peanuts or adding the roasted salted Spanish peanuts at the end of the cooking process.
When the butter, vanilla and baking soda are added when the candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees, the entire mixture will foam up. The entire mixture remains on the heat until all the butter has melted (another lesson learned in this brittle making process). If you don't have a heavy saucepan (am a big All-Clad fan), the brittle and the caramel recipes are just two reasons why you should have (at least) one.
This recipe calls for using not one, but three baking sheets (buttered or sprayed with Pam). The brittle poured into narrow (about 4 inches) lines and divided equally between the three baking sheets. This results in a thinner versus thicker brittle. Once cooled the brittle is broken into pieces. To keep the brittle fresh store in a tightly sealed container or package in cellophane bags. A warning to my friends: Expect to see peanut brittle on the holiday cookie/candy trays this year!
Sea Salted Peanut Brittle (slight adaptations to a recipe shared by Sharon Wussow)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups raw Spanish peanuts (or roasted salted Spanish peanuts)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt for sprinkling
Butter and/or Pam spray for cookie sheets
1. Butter or spray three bakings sheets. Set aside.
2. In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt. Heat until sugar dissolves.
3. Add raw Spanish peanuts and cook over medium-high heat stirring frequently until candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees. Notes: (1) Cooking time will range from 20 to 30 minutes and (2) if using Roasted Salted Spanish peanuts add at the end of the process or if using cashews add when candy thermometer reaches 290 degrees.
4. Immediately add in baking soda, vanilla and butter. Stir until butter has melted. Note: Mixture will initially foam up.
5. Remove from heat and pour brittle in narrow (4 inch) lines or a U-shape design (with 4 inch sides) on the prepared baking pans. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt.
6. Using a fork, gently pull down any piles of peanuts in the brittle. Note: when edge of brittle is slightly firm, gently pull edges with a fork to thin out the brittle.
7. Carefully turn brittle over on pan and allow to cool to room temperature.
8. When cooled, break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
Wild turkeys in the woods in Rockford, Illinois and along the Salt Creek Trail in Oak Brook, Illinois.