baked oats green chile chicken enchiladas chow mein bakery-style butter cookies

copyright jennifer yu © 2004-2023 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

brittle means good

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
[print recipe]

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.

20 nibbles at “brittle means good”

  1. Christine says:

    I was a part of the fear/scared to death camp for a long time even though my mother often made peanut brittle at home. She still makes it all the time so I think she’ll be delighted to hear about your recipe. The addition of orange zest is wonderful – never thought to do that before. She always stirs in a tsp. of baking soda at the end, right before turning it out onto the baking sheet. I’m not sure what that does, though.

  2. Ashley says:

    Ooo ground brittle on the side of a cake!! That sounds good. Great tip about keeping the lid on the boiling caramel mixture to dissolve the sugar on the sides, thanks. I made caramel for the second time a couple of weeks ago and let it go just 10-15 seconds too long. I ended up with a bit of a burnt tasting caramel. Your photos are beautiful as always!

  3. peabody says:

    Now I am quite sure that would ship well. :)
    I am one of the few people not afraid of hot sugar. It took me 10 years to get my fingerprints back after all the sugar pulling I had to do. I still have pretty teflon hands.

  4. Rachel says:

    absolutely gorgeous!! you are amazing!!

  5. DocChuck says:

    Brittle with macadamias and orange zest. What a fantastic idea!

    Macadamias are among one of our favorite “nuts” (although in Hawaii, the natives claim that they are not “nuts”). But whatever, your brittle has to be the result of a stroke of genius when it comes to combining complementary flavors.

    Thanks for the great recipe. But, I can see it coming . . . on our next trip to the Big Island, the wife will probably commandeer a large part of MY carry-on with a stash of macadamias.

    Your photos are GREAT.

  6. JEP says:

    Beautiful & delicious–thanks for the recipe!

  7. Michelle says:

    Macadamia orange brittle? Jen, you’re a girl after my heart. And the pictures? Amazing as usual. Send brittle… and snow. ;)

  8. Kevin says:

    Macadamia and orange sound like a great combo for brittle! Your brittle looks like amber glass!

  9. manggy says:

    I needs to get me some of them tools you have! (er, silpat and fancy grater :) I can’t bring myself to shell out the US$20 for a Microplane, even if I have already grated my hand in the past (don’t ask…). The one thing I hate about caramel? Cleaning the damn saucepan afterwards!!! @$%!#!

    I’m actually not a big fan of brittle, but when you grind it up into praline and mix it with other things (esp. choc)– awesome.

    Hoping for a worry-free treatment for you, Jen. Take care! :)

  10. Bellini Valli says:

    When we were kids we always used to get a pound of cashews and a box of peanut brittle for Easter (along with the obligatory chocolate of course). I like the addition of the zest!

  11. jenyu says:

    Christine – I found a bunch of peanut brittle recipes that call for the addition of butter and baking soda. I think that gives the bubbles in the brittle, no?

    Ashley – thanks!

    Peabody – I’ve seen your spun sugar, you are a pro! :)

    Rachel – *blush* you exaggerate ;)

    DocChuck – maybe you can sneak me in your luggage on your next trip to Hawai’i? hee hee. thanks for the kind words!

    JEP – you are most welcome!

    Michelle – oops, I sent the brittle away (all over the country, actually), but the snow… we need all the snow we can get – ha ha!

    Kevin – thanks! it cuts like glass too ;)

    Manggy – you’re one to talk about tools, man. I want those lovely silicone molds you’ve got! If you’re patient, just soak the caramel coated pan in hot water. If you’re impatient, fill the pot with water and set it to boil. I actually prefer toffee to brittle. Thanks for the sweet words, Mark!

    Bellini – that sounds so lovely!

  12. Anita says:

    I can get so addicted to brittle…and with macadamia nuts in it…mmm, irresistible!

  13. Liz says:

    That brittle tastes so light and fresh – it is delicious (I know first hand since I was lucky enough to have a package arrive in my mail!!). Thanks Jen! What a great twist on brittle!!

  14. StickyGooeyCreamyChewy says:

    OMG! I love everything about this one. I have a feeling I’ll be spending some time at the dentist’s office in the near future! ;)

  15. Tartelette says:

    You know how much I love sugar…It’s my nicotine, cocaine and everything in btetween!

  16. jenyu says:

    Anita – I’d actually take brittle over chocolate any day :)

    Liz – yay! you’re very welcome.

    SGCC – ha ha, well if you share it around with folks then maybe you won’t have to go to the dentist too often ;)

    Tartlette – well, you do wondrous stuff with sugar, Helen. If I lived at your house, I’d be nuts about it too!

  17. Chris says:

    Wow…I might have to to risk another dentist bill for this one. Looks sinfully delicious. And you pictures! Lovely!

  18. jenyu says:

    Chris – thank you!

  19. Kaitlin says:

    Wow that looks great! I was wondering if you knew how to incorporate fruit juices into brittles, like for a cranberry cashew brittle or something.

  20. jenyu says:

    Kaitlin – hmm, not that i know of. I can only imagine introducing an essence, but anything with water would probably cause seizing of the sugar, don’t you think?

leave a reply