Peanut Brittle Laboratory Trials - results
Over the past two days I made 6 batches of peanut brittle from five different recipes. I used pre-roasted, slightly salted peanuts in all four recipes. In each case, when the mixture came off the heat I quickly dumped it out on a lightly buttered cooking sheet and pushed it around with spoon and blunt knife till it was roughly one nut deep. You have to work fast.
- Recipe #1, adapted from Jacques Torres
3 1/4 cups salted toasted peanuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
7 tablespoons butter, cubed
Place ingredients in saucepan over high heat. Cook to 300 degrees (a deep caramel color, also known as "hard crack") while continuously stirring with a wooden spoon. The mixture will become very thick.
Observations: putting the peanuts in at the very start resulted in quite a few burned nuts, but the flavor was very good anyway. This was maybe too many nuts for this much goo. Nice mouthfeel.
- Recipe #2, adapted from Gale Gand
1/2 cup water
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups roasted salted peanuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
Combine the water, sugar, cream of tartar and corn syrup in a medium-size heavy saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer. Bring to a boil over medium heat. After it boils, stir the mixture occasionally. Boil the mixture until it reaches 300 degrees. The color should be deep golden brown. Remove from the heat and, working quickly, stir in the butter until melted, then the peanuts and baking soda.
Observations: The original recipe said 340 degrees; that would be a complete disaster. 300 is the maximum before the whole thing is ruined, in my opinion. I don't know what the cream of tartar was for. The baking soda made it fizz up very entertainingly but I could taste it in the finished product. I would use less or omit it the next time.
I noticed there is less peanut taste when you put the peanuts in at the very end. This recipe made an extremely hard (sturdy) candy. Possibly could break your tooth.
- Recipe #3, adapted from Alton Brown
1 1/2 cups lightly salted, roasted peanuts
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
Softened butter for spatula
Put the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan, cook over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it comes to a boil. Stop stirring, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sugar is a light amber color. Stir in peanuts. This will greatly reduce the temperature of the sugar so work quickly.
Observations: The first time I did this, I was astonished at how long it was taking compared to the first two recipes. After it had been boiling for almost an hour it still was not close to the right temperature. I turned my back on it to make a few notes and when I looked back, all the water had evaporated and what was left looked like a salt mine. Completely ruined - and it stuck to the pan, too! So I put that one to soak and tried again. Lost time: one hour.
The second time, I watched it carefully. But remembering that the peanuts in recipe #2 - also put in at the very end as instructed here - did not have much taste, I tried putting them in when the mixture reached 250 degrees so they would cook a bit. Utter disaster again! It became a sugary sludge and no matter how long I continued to cook it, it did not rise above 250 degrees. It just got drier and sandier.
I spread it on the cooking sheet anyway. It made these crusty peanuts which I fed to the crows.
- Recipe #4, microwave peanut brittle
I had to go down to the store and get more corn syrup, because I will never again try to make peanut brittle without it! And I had to get more peanuts, because I'd ruined all the rest of the ones I had creating the Alton Brown crow-feeding disaster.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1-1/3 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Combine sugar and corn syrup in a 2 quart microwaveable casserole and cook at HIGH for four minutes. Stir in the peanuts and cook at HIGH for 3-1/2 more minutes. Stir in ...
WAIT! According to the recipe, you now cook it for 1-1/2 minutes more with the butter in it, then stir in the baking soda and spread it. But mine was on the verge of ruin at the WAIT! point. So in a panic I put the butter and the baking soda in, stirred like crazy, and turned it out.
Observations: This recipe must have been calibrated for an old, feeble microwave oven. Personally, I like somewhat burned things, but I couldn't give this candy to anyone as a present - it had pronounced burnt peanut and burnt sugar taste.
This strikes me as a very risky recipe; every microwave is different, and since you don't use a candy thermometer with this method, you have to go by instinct and be lucky, too.
I suppose if you made it many times (which you might, cause it's very easy) you'd eventually get it right. A few seconds make a difference. Anyway, it makes a very sturdy candy.
- Recipe #5, adapted from Recipe #1
1 cup raw pecans
2 cups salted toasted peanuts
1 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup corn syrup
6 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
This time, I put the pecans in with the sugar and corn syrup and butter to cook, but I did not add the peanuts till the mixture reached 240 degrees. The peanuts did not burn. I think a few less nuts would be fine. I added the soda because I wanted to watch it fizz up again.
Observations: pretty much perfect, but a little bit delicate. It may not travel well, but even its crumbs will be appreciated. I wish I had resisted temptation and omitted the baking soda, because I could still taste it.
UPDATE: Somebody else found this via the googled question: "Why is my peanut brittle still not hard?" Answer: you probably didn't boil it long enough.
UPDATE: Somebody googled: "peanut brittle stuck in pan." I used non-stick pans and sprayed them, too, with cooking spray (PAM in a generic form). It's possible if your peanut brittle is already stuck maybe you could unstick it by heating the bottom of the pan with a hairdryer?
If your mixture is already dumped out and cooled, but not hard, it's too late. It's the intense cooking in the pot - up to a caramel or amber color - or what is called the "hard crack" stage (take a dribble and drop it in cold water - if it gets brittle it's ready, if it's soft boil it more) - that gives the correct consistency. After you dump it onto the cookie sheet, it will be softish until it cools completely.
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