Recipe: macadamia orange brittle
The word brittle conjures up so many meanings. Brittle bones, brittle failure (okay, that’s a term in mechanics, but important for all sorts of materials studies), brittle personality. I’ll admit that when I hear the word brittle my mind immediately turns to brittle-ductile transition zones in the Earth’s crust. And yet my favorite meaning of brittle is the confection of a delicious nut meat suspended in the matrix of a caramelized sugary goodness, broken into delightfully dangerous shards that melt and crunch in your mouth. Swoon.
There are two camps of people when it comes to caramelized sugar. Those who love it and those who hate/fear it. I’ve been in both camps – twice. It was pretty easy to master at sea level although I did brick my fair share of pots of hot crystallized sugar when I got a little too cocky (read careless). What a bleeping mess. But in general it was a cinch to make. Then I moved up here, as in several thousand feet up. Caramelizing sugar became a little more finicky and I fell into the hate/fear camp. My pastry course at CSR helped with my “issues”. The introduction of acids like cream of tartar or lemon juice, and the addition of corn syrup helped to stabilize the mixture as it boiled to amber loveliness. Back into the love camp.
orange zest adds a subtle floral overtone
This recipe originally calls for the use of hazelnuts. I adore hazelnuts. I hate skinning them. It is a royal pain in the ass because you can never get all of the skins removed. If I were Martha Stewart, I would have my lackeys do it, but my lackey is me. I’ll save my hazelnuts for something else. I decided to go with another highly prized, but easy to peel (read: already peeled) nut – macadamia nuts. I read somewhere that mac nuts are poisonous for dogs, so I’m careful not to let those bubs roll off the counter during chopping because Kaweah is always standing vigilant nearby.
rough chopped mac nuts and zest
One of the nice tricks I learned from our chef was that he covers the pot with the sugar, water, and corn syrup with the lid and lets it boil until steam is coming out from under the lid. Let it boil for a while to ensure that all of the sugar has dissolved. He said the steam condenses on the lid and then runs down the sides “washing” the sugar crystals down. When the sugar is dissolved, you can remove the lid. We don’t want crystals in this mixture if we can avoid it. Because when this stuff starts to boil, the water is boiling off and the concentration of sugar increases and the temperature rises which eventually takes your sugar through the various stages ending up with a gorgeous amber candy. If you have a crystal in there or if one forms (by disrupting it with air for instance), then it will seed the rest of your batch and the whole thing will turn into a dry and very hot brick of sugar. It’s depressing. You want to avoid this and allow the sugar to transform into liquid caramelized sugar. That’s why folks playing with caramelized sugar suffer all sorts of random burns – the stuff is HOT and it STICKS to you. Ouch.
stirring in the nuts and zest
Watch your sugar carefully because when it begins to turn amber, it changes quickly and you don’t want it too burnt. Remove from heat and let it cool for a minute. Stir in the other ingredients carefully. You don’t want to introduce too much air because the caramel can still seed and crystallize (this happened to another group in our class). Quickly and smoothly pour it out onto a silpat or a greased baking sheet and spread it evenly into a continuous blob. Be warned, the baking sheet will get very hot. When the brittle cools, break it up with your hands.
hence the name
If you add butter or cream to a brittle recipe, it becomes toffee. Mmmm, toffee… You can also vary the recipe and use peanuts with ground cinnamon or just play around with it. The brittle can also be ground up in a food processor (I’ve never done this) and pressed on the sides of cakes or sprinkled on a scoop of ice cream.
great for gifts or snacking
Macadamia Orange Brittle
4 oz. water
14 oz. sugar
4 tbsps light corn syrup
1 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped (originally calls for hazelnuts, skinned and toasted)
1/2 tsp orange zest
Line a half sheet pan with silpat or parchment. Grease or lightly butter. Combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan and gently stir them together with clean fingers to remove pockets of dry sugar in the pan. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Once steam is escaping from under the lid, let boil for a minute then remove the lid. Don’t stir the mixture. Cook until the sugar reaches an amber color (about 315°F). Remove from heat and let bubbles subside for a minute. Stir in the nuts and zest with a warm spoon (so the sugar doesn’t react to the cold). Make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Pour mixture onto sheet pan and spread to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. If it cools too fast and becomes too hard to spread, put it in a 350°F oven for a couple of minutes to heat it up and make it spread. Let it cool completely and then break it into pieces.