I miss my mother-in-law. I didn’t tell many of you, but she passed away this fall. If you’ve lost someone you love, you know: the holidays can be tough. They bring with them a strange mixed bag of emotions. There’s joy when I remember the many traditions started and nurtured by Mom; sorrow, often more profound than ever, when fully internalizing that she’ll no longer be sitting around the kitchen table chit-chatting with us; even anxiety in wondering how best to recognize her memory, especially around my husband’s very private family. (Do they want to talk about our loss? Do they not?) Anyway, I don’t know how to reconcile these complicated feelings, but I do know I smiled the other day when I thought about how proudly and predictably Mom offered up her brittle (photo 1 in the gallery below) each Christmas. Then my heart promptly sunk when I couldn’t find the recipe I’d asked her for – more than once. Fortunately, my sister-in-law came to the rescue, and my mood turned sunny again when I saw Mom’s recipes (sister Sue sent two!) written as she wrote most of her letters, in a light, breezy shorthand (photo 2).
So today I honor Sal, my my mother-in-law, with this version of her famous brittle. She used one pound of raw peanuts in the sugar mixture, as you’ll see in her shorthand. But I had a large stash of my favorite pistachios (ARO brand) on hand and decided to alter the mix-ins a bit. Also, Mom had candy making down pat, so I’ve elaborated on the method for those needing more help. Mom, I hope you’re OK with this! The rest of you, I hope you get as much joy from making this recipe as I did from just looking at my mother-in-law’s handwriting again.
A little more than 2 1/4 pounds (1 kg)
(Forgive me, I nibbled before I weighed!)
- Be sure to place a lined cookie sheet in a low (about 300˚F/149˚C) oven before you start. It’s easier to spread the brittle in Step 3 if it lands on a hot cookie sheet.
- In lieu of greasing the cookie sheet, I line it with a silicone baking mat, which makes for easier cleanup. You can also use parchment paper, though it will slip around more in the spreading process.
- 2 cups (13.3 oz/377 g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (10.6 oz/302 g) light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup (4.0 oz/118 ml) water
- 1 pound (454 g) shelled raw nuts of choice (Mom used peanuts; I used extra plump ARO brand pistachios.)
- 1/2 cup (4 oz/113 g) dried cranberries or tart cherries (Mom never added these, but I thought the red with the green pistachios would be Christmas-y; plus, the fruit adds a nice chew to the brittle’s crunch.)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 | Make the sugar syrup. Combine the first three ingredients in a medium (3- to 4-quart) saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil, stirring only occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture reaches 275˚F (135˚C). (It may take several minutes to reach this point, so be patient; oh, and it’s best to use a candy thermometer rather than guessing. For the most accurate temperature measurements, be sure the tip of the thermometer is fully surrounded by liquid rather than leaning against the side or bottom of the pan.) At this point, the mixture will still be clear, and may be spinning sugar threads when you stir it. No worries; this is all completely normal.
2 | Briefly cook the nuts et al. With the mixture still on the heat, stir in the nuts and dried fruit, taking care to evenly coat these mix-ins. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture turns a light brown or reaches 310˚F (154˚C), whichever comes first. Don’t be alarmed if the mix-ins seem to bind up most of the sugar; once poured and spread, the mixture will appear to have more sugar to mix-ins than it does in the pan. Also, the mixture can quickly over-caramelize and burn, so watch it carefully and pull it off the heat as soon as it reaches the right point – which, again, is light brown.
3 | Finish the mixture and get it on the cookie sheet, fast! Add the butter and baking soda. Stir until all of the butter is melted and the ingredients are evenly distributed; then quickly (and I mean, quickly) transfer the mixture to the heated, prepped cookie sheet. Spread the mixture as thinly as possible (which is about one nut deep) and allow it to cool completely. The sugar will harden as it cools. Break the brittle into bite-size pieces (photos 1 and 3) and serve, or package in airtight containers for holiday gift-giving.