Peanut brittle

Peanut brittle
Peanut brittle

After spending the weekend painting and re-carpeting our house, and with British inlaws arriving next week, I knew Project Pastry had to be quick and easy this weekend.

Still on the confectionery list are things like Turkish Delight, caramels, fudge and noutagine but peanut brittle jumped out at me and I’m grateful for the decision.

This was the simplest recipe so far, and is something impressive I can share with my vegetarian (read no gelatin) inlaws.

I used Michel Suas’ recipe but looked at lots on the internet as preparation. Most called for sugar and peanuts as a base, but then there were combinations including vanilla, butter, and baking soda.

Michel Suas explains that peanut brittle is a noncrystalline confection which means that there is a lack of crystal formation during the cooking process.

You inhibit this crystal formation by using a few tricks:

  • Adding an invert sugar such as glucose, corn syrup or honey
  • Adding an acid like lemon juice, tartaric acid or cream of tartar
  • Preventing “seeding” by brushing down the sides of your pan with a clean, wet brush to ensure sugar crystals don’t form

The baking soda in the recipe was surprising to me, because I’d always seen brittle as being glass-like but stirring in the baking soda caused the sugar to foam like a honeycomb.

This meant that the brittle was easier to eat and didn’t feel like you were going to crack your teeth in two.

I’d love to try out some more flavour combinations with different nuts and seeds, as well as incorporate the brittle into other dishes like ice cream.

Peanut Brittle (adapted from Michel Suas)

300g sugar
150g glucose syrup
1/3 cup water
370g peanuts (I used salted)
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp butter
½ tsp salt (I didn’t include because I used salted peanuts)

Cook the sugar, glucose and water to 138C.

Add the peanuts, and cook until golden brown and temperature reaches 155C. Keep stirring the mixture so that the peanuts don’t catch on the bottom of the pan and scorch.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and soda. The mixture will expand and foam a little.

Stir well and pour out onto a lightly greased silicon mat.

Leave to cool for at least and hour. 

Pistachio and dried cranberry nougat

Pistachio and dried cranberry nougat
Pistachio and dried cranberry nougat

The process of making nougat is actually very similar to marshmallows, but in this case you are taking your sugar syrup to a higher temperature.

When making marshmallows, we peaked at 118C whereas nougat goes up to 130C for a chewy nougat or 150C for a harder nougat.

I’ve done up the table below which summarises candy temperatures as well as some commonly used terminology:

  • 103-113C = Thread
  • 113-116C = Soft ball (will form a soft, sticky ball that can be flattened. Used for caramels, fudge, pralines, fondant)
  • 118-121C = Firm ball (will form a firm but pliable, sticky ball that holds it shape briefly. Used for caramels, nougat, marshmallow, Italian meringue, toffee and gummies)
  • 121-129C = Hard ball (will form a hard, sticky ball that holds its shape. Used for caramels, nougat, toffees)
  • 132-143C = Soft crack (will form strands that are firm yet pliable. Used for butterscotch, firm nougat and taffy)
  • 149-154C = Hard crack (will form threads that are stiff and break easily. Used for brittles, toffees, pulled/spin sugar, hard candy).
  • 160-177C = Caramel (becomes transparent and will change colour ranging from light golden brown to dark amber. Used for pralines, brittles and nougatine).

The other major difference is the absence of gelatin.

I like the colour and flavour of pistachios, although other nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts are just as good. I also wanted to add an extra element so included a small proportion of dried cranberries.

Pistachio and dried cranberry nougat

2 cups caster sugar
1 ½ cup liquid glucose
1 tbsp honey
2 eggwhites
1 ½ cup pistacshio nuts
½ cup dried cranberries

Heat the sugar, liquid glucose and honey over a medium heat to 120C (using a candy thermometer).

In a mixer, start whisking the eggs whites.

Continue heating the syrup until 140C then remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds in a bath of cold water.

Pour into the whisking egg whites in a steady stream.

Add the nuts and cranberries and continue to whisk for three minutes until smooth and glossy.

Pour onto a silicon mat, then cool for approximately 4-6 hours.

Marshmallows

Marshmallow
Marshmallows

Last week I referred to crystalline and non- crystalline confectionery but I thought I’d take a step back and run through all types of confectionery (as defined by Michel Suas):

  • Crystalline – defined by the formation of sugar crystals during the cooking process. Includes fondant, fudges and pralines. 
  • Non- crystalline – characterised by lack of crystal formation during the cooking process. Includes hard candies, brittles, caramels and toffees.
  • Aerated – consists of a stable foam, created by the process of whipping. Includes marshmallows and nougat.
  • Jellies – based on gelatin, pectin and agar setting agents. Includes traditional lollies like jelly beans and sour worms, as well as Turkish Delight and pâtes de fruits.

I’m going on a weekend away with my family where we always toast marshmallows around an open fire, so thought I’d attempt to make my own this time.

It was a daunting thought, so I was very surprised to see that marshmallows actually had very few ingredients and were a pretty simple process.

It’s basically a process of adding sugar syrup (close to soft ball stage) and bloomed gelatin to whipped egg whites.

There is an alternative method replacing egg whites which I might attempt another day.

One thing to be careful with is ensuring you whisk the egg whites long enough after you’ve added the sugar syrup and gelatin. I read in another article that it should resemble soft serve ice cream.

Marshmallow recipe (courtesty of Bo Friberg)

3 tablespoons gelatin powder  
½ cup cold water  
450g caster sugar  
1tsp corn syrup
½ cup water  
½ cup egg whites (approx. 4 eggs)
Cornflour and powdered sugar mixed at 1:1 ratio

Line the bottom of a 30x20cm pan and sprinkle generously with some of the cornflour and sugar mix.  

Bloom the gelatin in ½ cup of cold water – make sure you sprinkle the gelatin over the water instead of pour water over gelatin.  When completely bloomed, heat to dissolve the gelatin then set aside and keep warm.

In a heavy bottom stainless steel saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and second ½ cup of water and start cooking over medium heat.

Place egg whites in bowl of mixer with the whip attachment.

When the sugar syrup reaches 110C start whipping the egg whites at a high speed. When it reaches 118C take the syrup off the heat and reduce the mixer to a slow speed. Slowly pour into the egg whites at a steady stream.

Take care to pour it between the whip and the side of the bowl to avoid splattering.  Immediately add the dissolved gelatin and then turn the mixer speed to high.

When meringue is smooth and fluffy but still warm, pour it into the prepared pan and spread to even the top.  You may mix in your colour (I made some blue ones for my Frozen obsessed niece) and flavoring just before pouring it into the pan. Store the marshmallow mixture at room temperature until cool completely.

When cooled and set, cut the marshmallow sheet into desired shape with a lightly oiled chef knife or a pair of scissors.  Immediately coat the cut marshmallows in the cornflour and powder sugar mix.  Dust or shake off excess coating and serve.

Honeycomb

Honeycomb
Honeycomb

As an Australian who has grown up eating Violet Crumbles and Crunchies, I had no choice but to start my foray into confectionery with honeycomb.

Also referred to as sponge toffee, foam toffee, cinder toffee and hokey pokey, honeycomb is generally made from sugar, golden syrup and baking soda.

It’s a bit of fun chemistry-wise and I found an excellent article that talks through the science of it all – http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2010/sep/24/sugar-honeycomb-cinder-toffee.

The main things that jumped out at me, and are sure to be helpful in the coming weeks, were:

Sugar temperature

The temperature of the sugar syrup will affect the consistency of your confectionery. For example, at 113C you make fudge, at 132C you make chewy toffee and at 149C and above you make hard sweets.

For this recipe, the author recommends that you heat the sugar syrup to 140-150C so that you get a good crack rather than a chew. However, if you’re feeling adventurous you can play around with the heat until you get the consistency you prefer.

Role of bi-carb soda

The heat of the sugar causes the bi-carb soda to break down, releasing carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide makes the syrup bubble and foam like crazy and leave you with a toffee that is aerated.

Interfering agents

The golden syrup can be replaced by glucose syrup or honey (which I’ve seen in other recipes) but it’s basically there to prevent crystallisation as the sugar cools. This creates non-crystalline confectionery like brittles, caramels and toffees rather than crystalline confectionery like fondants, fudges and dragées (more on those later).

If you’re planning on making honeycomb, or any other confectionery, I’d definitely recommend having a candy thermometer on hand!

Mine tasted delicious but didn’t have quite the rise and bubble that I wanted. But hey it’s a first attempt and I’ll be more than happy to keep eating the spoils in the meantime.

Honeycomb (courtesy of Andy Connelly)

100g caster sugar
3 tablespoons of golden syrup
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Mix the caster sugar and golden syrup together in a heavy bottomed pan large enough to accommodate the rising sugar when it bubbles up. 

Put the pan on a low heat stirring with a wooden spoon until all the sugar crystals have dissolved, at this point stop stirring and heat until 145-150C.

Add the bicarbonate of soda, take off the heat, and stir.

Quickly pour the gooey bubbling mixture onto a baking tray covered with grease proof paper or greased foil. (I used a silicon mat)

Leave to cool then transfer to an air-tight container (or your mouth). Or you can cover it in chocolate and then eat it.