In its simplest sense, brittle is a mixture of water and sugar heated to the hard crack stage, or a temperature of about 300 to 310 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just like many other food discoveries, there is no official account as to how the brittle was created. One story says it was accidentally created by a Southern woman in 1890. The woman mistakenly added baking soda instead of cream of tartar to the taffy she was making. It came out crunchy, instead of the chewy taffy. But however the brittle happened, it is said to be one of the first candies ever made.
- The earliest mentions of peanut brittle made with corn syrup and nuts happened in cookbooks around the 19th It is also mostly recognized as an American recipe with it commonly being found in American cookbooks.
- A lumberjack folk hero or a character in Southern folklore, and a cousin of Paul Bunyan, also had his own story in inventing the peanut brittle… or at least as the legend says! Tony Beaver was said to have saved a town from flooding by using peanuts and molasses!
- National Peanut Brittle Day is celebrated every January 26th.
Brittle Buying Guide
There are several versions of brittles all around the world, like the Greek pasteli, the French croquant, Georgia’s gozinaki, India’s chikki and the kotkoti in Bangladesh. Many Asian countries use sesame seeds and peanuts, while pistachios are used in the Middle East. Pecans and almonds are also other alternatives.
Brittle Production & Farming in Texas
With Texas abound with pecans and peanuts, creating and selling brittle has also been a viable add-on to the business, as well as supplying makers of brittle and candy stores, which often carries brittle selections.
Preservatives, Additives, and Chemicals
Like many other treats or desserts, in theory, the brittle can be made all-natural. But with the brittle makers constantly innovating their recipes, and adding more flavors or ingredients to the mix, that’s when things get a little bit murky. So, it would be a great habit to check out the ingredients list of the brittle you are buying. But as for the traditional ingredients, a brittle is made by combining sugar, corn syrup, butter baking soda, and of course, the nuts of your choice.
- Corn Syrup – Many recipes often call for corn syrup. This is basically sugar extracted from corn and processed to become this clear syrup. Many often mistakenly think of corn syrup as the dreaded high fructose corn syrup but they are totally different. To clarify, corn syrup is pure glucose, while for HFCS some of its glucose is chemically or enzymatically processed to become fructose making it even sweeter than corn syrup or the regular table sugar. While corn syrup per se does not have the negative effects that can be brought upon by the high consumption of HFCS, it is still a good practice to consume products with corn syrup moderately. It is still refined sugar and may still contain traces of HFCS.
- Baking Soda – Now this powder is certainly a house and kitchen staple. Also known as sodium bicarbonate, it is widely used in baking, as well as for cleaning and neutralizing odors. Baking soda serves as a leavening agent, which helps baked goods rise.
Brittles are often given or sold packed in jars or tubs of different sizes, as well as resealable plastic or kraft pouches. It is important to keep the brittle away from moisture and humidity.
Though classic brittles are still being made and sold, with other recipes even being handed down to younger generations, many makers have taken the challenge of creating the most innovative combinations and flavors! Others make it a real sweet treat by using chocolate. Some make it an adult snack by adding liquor to the mixture! While others just want to challenge their buyers’ taste buds, making really spicy variations!
It is advised to keep the brittle in an airtight container at room temperature. It can keep for about 8 weeks. But though it can be stored in the freezer, it is not advised to put it in the refrigerator. Since the fridge contains a lot of moisture, that is the brittle’s main enemy, affecting the crunch that is its representative texture. It is also recommended that each piece of brittle be separated using wax paper or plastic wrap, especially if kept at room temperature in a humid climate to prevent them from sticking together. No one wants a big sticky lump of brittle, right?
Peanut Brittle a la Martha Stewart
The renowned and multi-hyphenated TV personality shared her recipe of peanut brittle in her website and describes it as “a picture of salty-sweet perfection.”
- Unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ cups salted peanuts (cashews and almonds can also be used)
- Vegetable oil, to oil the spatula
- Grease a baking sheet using the softened butter.
- In a medium saucepan, mix sugar with ½ cup of water and salt. Cook it over high heat without stirring for about 3 minutes, or until the sugar starts to melt and turn golden.
- Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely melted.
- Remove the pan from the heat then stir in the peanuts to the mixture.
- Onto the buttered baking sheet, immediately pour the peanut mixture. Spread it to about ½ inch thick using the oiled metal spatula.
- Cool the mixture completely, or for about 15 minutes.
- Break the brittle into pieces, and enjoy!