Brittle Love Don't Come Easy

For the love of candy, I earned a blister on my thumb. I wish I could tell you that my injury is due to a wrestling match over a Clark bar or something equally brutish and street-corner scrappy.

Pumpkin seed brittle.(Kim O'Donnel)

But no, my thumb is sore for a far more maniacal reason: I was stirring sugar nonstop with a wooden spoon for about 30 minutes. (Who says making candy isn't good exercise?)

On my mountain, recipes typically fall into two categories. The first is those that come easy; they're imprintable on the brain, requiring only a brief visual reminder of how the dish comes together. Who doesn't love an easy sail through a recipe?

Then then are "the beasts," the dishes that need coaxing with extra time, energy -- and in this case -- muscle. Pumpkin seed brittle falls into this more challenging category.

Lest you think I should leave candy brittle to hair-netted ladies stirring copper kettles full of sugar syrup, I maintain that making the stuff in the privacy of your hairnet-less kitchen is great fun and well worth the effort.

The results are gorgeous -- look at the above photo if you don't believe me -- stain glass windows or Gaudi-esque mosaics come to mind. If you're able to roll out the cooked mixture thinly enough, your brittle will be refined and delicate. One bite will have guests wondering if it's cinnamon they're tasting or if peanuts are holding everything together. They'll be surprised to learn how complex toasted pumpkin seeds can be and they will forever think of you as a candy magician.

A couple of brittle notes based on several rounds at the fire:

• The shorter the pot, the better. Even a two-quart sauce pan is a wee bit high. In a tall saucepan, the sugar syrup will come up only a few inches, often not high enough to meet the candy thermometer. This is key if you want an accurate temperature reading.

• Use a heat-proof rubber spatula to stir the syrup; change to a sturdy wooden spoon for the hard labor to come.

• Cooked sugar is nothing to mess around with. It can cause serious burns, so be careful. Use a high heat-resistant silicone mitt or pot holder when handling.

• Don't get discouraged. The process of sugar crystallization after adding the pumpkin seeds can feel like an eternity, but hang in there. You haven't screwed up even if after a few minutes you've still got a grainy green mess.

• Once the brittle is poured onto the parchment paper, you must act quickly. It might help to do this as a team with one person to pouring and the other person to rolling out and cutting.

• As soon as the saucepan is emptied of mixture, immediately put under running warm water to begin loosening. Cooked sugar is a doozy to clean up; soaking in baking soda is a big help.
Pumpkin Seed Brittle

From January 2005 issue of Gourmet

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas)

Equipment: candy thermometer, parchment paper, heavy-bottomed saucepan (the shorter the better), rolling pin

Place a piece of parchment paper -- at least 15 inches across -- onto work surface and anchor corners with tape.

Bring sugar, water and salt to a boil in saucepan, stirring with a heat-proof rubber spatula until sugar is dissolved. Once mixture arrives at a boil (215 degrees or so), stop stirring. Cook until syrup reaches 238 degrees (soft-ball stage) on candy thermometer, up to 20 minutes. Syrup will be colorless.

Remove from heat and stir in seeds with a strong wooden spoon, stirring until syrup gets grainy and crystallizes, up to 10 minutes.

Return pan to moderate heat, stirring constantly, until sugar melts completely. You will notice the sugar melting, then it will crystallize again. Be patient and keep stirring. The seeds will begin turning brown as they toast; once this happens, the sugar will begin melting.

When mixture is deep caramel color, pour onto parchment and carefully cover with another sheet of parchment. Immediately roll out as thinly as possible with rolling pin, pressing firmly.

Remove top sheet of parchment and immediately cut brittle into strips (if possible) with a chef's knife or pizza wheel. Allow brittle to cool completely, then peel off bottom layer of parchment. (Alternately, break brittle into pieces once cool.)

Can be made in advance and wrapped in parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container.

What's your culinary Achilles heel that you just can't say no to? Share in the comments below. Better yet, join me today at noon for a live hour of kitchen kibbitz. Be there or be a stewed prune.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 30, 2006; 11:04 PM ET Candy
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reminds me of the old fudge and candy recipes I have from my grandma and are passing on to her great grand children (hot sugar means most of them they need a few more years before really participating). Last year I bought the pizza cutter from Crate and Barrel (they have them elsewhere, too). It is the long single blade thing that can rock a bit. (not a wheel) Best $10 I ever spent. Given the length I can cut my fudge even better than using a chef's knife. My cousin's are happy our family recipes are being passed down to their kids.

Posted by: secretfun | November 11, 2006 2:05 PM

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