I’ve had peanut brittle that was so hard it would pull your fillings out. Fortunately I was eight years old at the time, so I didn’t have any fillings. I was selling it for a school fundraiser, and my grandfather took me to his league night to sell to the guys at the bowling alley. The guy with dentures was not amused.
I always thought that’s just how peanut brittle is. It turns out all the stuff I’ve had before was stale peanut brittle. Now that I’ve made my own and had it fresh, I know better.
Combine the water, sugar and corn syrup in a small (2 quart) sauce pan.
That doesn’t look like a small sauce pan does it. Looks kind of like a big ol’ stock pot. Sure you can use a big one, but you’re going to need to put a candy thermometer in it. And after starting with the big pot I looked at it and realized the clip on the thermometer wouldn’t fit over the rim. And even if it did, it wouldn’t reach far enough down anyway. So we transferred it to the smaller pot.
Now that it’s in the right size, clip the candy thermometer on the side with the tip into the liquid but not touching the bottom of the pan — if the tip touches the bottom, you’ll be measuring the temperature of the stove — then cover as much as you can with the lid.
Bring to a boil, then cook on medium heat (high on a gas stove) until it’s at hard crack stage. That means a drop of the mixture, when dropped into a glass of cold water, will harden into threads that crack when you try to bend them. Or 300° F on the candy thermometer. (If you’re interested in more about the stages sugar goes through when heating, check out this great collection of videos on the science of candy.)
By the way, this is going to take a long time. Over two hours in our case. Maybe we could have gone hotter, but we didn’t want it to boil over so we were conservative on the heat setting.
While it’s cooking, combine the baking soda with just enough water to dissolve it completely and set it aside for later. Also, get a heavy baking sheet and grease it well with butter.
Once it’s at 300° stir in the butter and cook until golden brown.
NOTE: If you’re using raw peanuts, add them with the butter and they’ll roast while the candy is cooking. When the peanuts start to pop, they’re done. (But if the candy is golden, don’t wait for the peanuts to pop.)
Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and — if you’re using pre-roasted nuts — stir in the nuts, too.
Now things are going to go pretty fast. Stir in the baking soda mixture. It will foam up immediately, and you want to bubbles to be evenly distributed, so you have to dump it in and stir quickly
Pour it out onto the greased baking sheet and spread it evenly.
Don’t try to spread it with a spatula, like it’s cake frosting. Shake the baking sheet around to distribute the candy. Remember that you’re pouring a couple of pounds of 300° syrup into a metal pan, and metal is a good conductor.
Yeah, hot is right. So work fast. Let it cool overnight.
Press the center of the baking sheet on the corner of a counter to pop the candy loose from the bottom.
Cover with wax paper and flip over onto a work surface.
Let your kitchen helper sample it.
“Do you like it?”
Sorry for the blur, she was nodding her head too fast.
Cover with another piece of wax paper and crack into pieces with the corner of a meat mallet or the side of a heavy spoon.
Don’t whack too hard, this is much lighter and more brittle than the commercial stuff. Wait … is that why they call it peanut “brittle”?
Serve in a pretty bowl.
And that’s it.
Oh, except for this: I hate high fructose corn syrup. I go out of my way to not buy anything that’s made with it, which is surprisingly hard to do. But this is candy. That’s how candy is made. One way or another it’s going to have a bunch of sugar in it. If you’re going to have a treat that you know is bad for you, doesn’t it make sense to have the best-tasting treat you can, and satisfy the craving?
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.