Jagged Little Thrill: Peanut Brittle with Vanilla Fleur de Sel

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We are now a month into 2014, and I am still breathlessly trying to catch up from the holidays! In my mind, I fancy myself an organized, efficient, task-oriented, domestic goddess…. In reality, I am an inefficient, oft-frazzled, multi-tasking nightmare. At any given time, I am imagining a number of creative projects that I would like to undertake and complete, some of which I might have even started, and of course everything I make will be wrapped, packaged, and displayed beautifully. The holidays of 2013 were no different– I envisioned baking sumptuous desserts and sending perfect, personalized gifts to my faraway loved ones. And in truth, some of this did happen; but in the midst of a very hectic time at work, while also packing up my apartment to move over the holiday break, there were more moments of, “What the hell was I thinking?!” and “Why can’t the cookies just bake themselves?!” and “F#*%ing sugar!” than I’d care to admit. Fortunately, a couple of things helped me maintain relative sanity, one of which was this Peanut Brittle with Vanilla Fleur de Sel. I lost track of the number of batches I made, and I can confidently say that I am a peanut brittle BOSS after making it so many times. It made an appearance at a large dessert event that I catered, it was sent to multiple appreciative friends, and I even taught kids how to make it in the Culinary Arts class at the high school where I work. I am eternally grateful to this brittle for its simplicity, deliciousness, and ease of transport– it was most certainly my go-to holiday candy this year.

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I learned this recipe over a year ago at an awesome candy-making class at Baking Arts in San Francisco, where I learned a ton about sugar science. I had intended to blog the recipe back then, but… let’s just say that 2012 was not altogether different than 2013, so things didn’t exactly go as planned. 😉 At any rate, I fell in love with the recipe and couldn’t wait to make it again this past year, and I dressed it up with one of my favorite new inspirations, vanilla fleur de sel, a combination of French sea salt and ground vanilla beans. If you are a vanilla fiend like me, you WILL need this in your life. I’ve been putting it on fudge and cookies, and I’m sure it will garnish many more treats in the future. Incidentally, since this recipe contains peanuts (read = protein and healthy fat) and only has 1 tablespoon of butter in the whole batch, it’s practically good for you. Go on, you’re worth it– even in January.

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Recipe/ingredient notes:

  • Peanuts: Some peanut brittle recipes call for pre-roasted peanuts to be added at the end of the cooking process, imparting little peanut flavor. This recipe calls for adding raw peanuts early in the process of boiling the sugar. At this stage, most of the water has dissolved, so the peanuts will dry-roast while the sugar is cooking, infusing the candy with deep peanut flavor. Never use salted peanuts because you cannot control the salt content. Raw peanuts can be found at Asian markets and restaurant supply stores.
  • Corn syrup: Unwanted sugar crystals will ruin your candy. The addition of corn syrup inhibits growth of sugar crystals, and sometimes you don’t even need to brush down the sides of the pan (but check anyway).
  • Baking soda: Adding baking soda causes the mixture to aerate (form bajillions of teeny-tiny bubbles), so the candy will have a pleasant crunch. Without it, it would be too hard to bite into. (Your dentist would surely be happy to have to have your business though…)
  • Candy thermometer: After a few batches, I found that I was able to judge doneness by color rather than temperature. I ended up taking the thermometer out once I added the peanuts, making it easier to stir the mixture in the pot. Simply watch for that beautiful golden brown color, which serves as a reliable guide for doneness. It may take a little practice to know when it’s right, but it will work when you learn what to look for.
  • Temperature/speed: If you pour the candy when it’s too hot (overcooked), it will be too hard to eat; if you wait too long and pour when it’s already started to set, it will start to develop taffy-like strands of sugar, which yields a different texture/crunch than what you want for brittle. This should not stick in your teeth excessively, but it will if the sugar is too hot or gets disturbed when it’s trying to set.

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Peanut Brittle with Vanilla Fleur de Sel
Adapted from Holiday Candy-Making class at Baking Arts
Yields approximately 20 servings

It is important to weigh your sugar and corn syrup here if at all possible. Volume measurements can be so variable, and the finished quality of your brittle depends upon accurate quantities of the sugars.

  • 200 grams (7 ounces or 1 cup) granulated sugar
  • 140 grams (5 ounces or ¼ cup + 2 tbsp.) light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  • 225 grams (8 ounces or 1½ cups + a few more) raw peanuts (no salt, no skin, no roasting)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla fleur de sel (or plain fleur de sel), optional

Place a Silpat mat on a baking sheet or line the pan with greased parchment paper. Have an offset spatula ready next to the pan; set aside both.

In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water over medium heat. Stir gently and continuously until the sugar crystals dissolve. (Try to avoid splashing sugar onto the walls of the pan.) Bring the mixture to a boil and stop stirring. Brush the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals that have built up.

Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. When the sugar syrup has reached a temperature of 240°F, slowly add the peanuts to the side of the pan (to avoid splashing). You may remove the thermometer and cook the candy based on sight, or keep it in the pan until the mixture is nearly done.

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Cook the peanut mixture over moderate heat, stirring constantly and firmly. Try to avoid getting peanuts up on the sides of the pan or clumped onto your spoon; keep them low and even on the bottom of the pot. You will see the sugar change from thick and very sticky (peanuts might be hard to stir at first) into a looser, thinner syrup that starts to pick up a faint golden color as the edges of the peanuts begin to turn a toasty light brown. You will see a transformation in the sugar bubbles– they will be rather boisterous in the beginning and will settle down towards the end of cooking.

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If using a thermometer at this point, take it out of the pan when the temperature reaches approximately 300°F and keep stirring. Keep a close eye on the peanuts—they should have a roasted color and strong nutty aroma. Don’t take the pot off the heat until the peanuts are golden brown. The mixture ultimately needs to reach 305-310°F, which will happen while you continue to stir for a couple more minutes. (If they are over-browning during this stage, remove immediately from the heat and continue with the recipe.)

Remove the pan from the burner. Working quickly, add the salt, butter, and vanilla extract and stir vigorously to combine. Stir in the baking soda VERY well, making sure there are no clumps. The mixture will foam up ever so slightly and change in color and texture as the baking soda aerates the candy– the goo will turn a lighter shade of brown (looks “ribbony”) and will become opaque; you want all the peanuts to be coated.

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Pour the peanut brittle onto your Silpat or parchment paper. Do not scrape every last bit from the sides of the pan; you risk getting any stray sugar crystals into the candy. Also, time is of the essence– use the offset spatula to *quickly* spread the candy to a thickness of one peanut.

Let the brittle cool to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes. Do not touch it while it’s cooling, as the sugar crystals are setting for the proper candy texture.

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Once cool, the candy will be a hard slab. Sprinkle it with the vanilla fleur de sel to taste. Break the brittle into large or small pieces. It will have the best flavor and crunch after sitting overnight at room temperature… if you can control yourself. In fact, it will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container. This candy makes a lovely holiday gift; wrap in individual treat bags or pack in parchment paper in a cookie tin. Incidentally, this would also be a lovely ice cream topping if you crush it up…

Eat it yourself, or share with friends and family; either way, enjoy this sweet and salty treat– it won’t last long! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.

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3 Responses

  1. I am very anxious to try this. I have been making brittle for about 20 years, and while my process is a bit different (butter, vanilla all in at beginning, and temps are a bit different) I am eager to get to be able to rely on my senses of sight and smell. I have never used raw nuts. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Steven! If you’re already familiar with brittle, I think you’ll find this recipe pretty easy. I’ve been making batch after batch for several holiday seasons now, and it never fails! I still use a candy thermometer for the first part, and then you can definitely use sight and smell at the end. It’s neat to see the peanuts “roasting” right in the sugar syrup. Good luck, I hope you like it! 🙂

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