When a craving for peanut brittle hits you, there are plenty of places you can go to that sell the commercially prepared product. It’s packaged as peanut brittle and has all the ingredients of traditional peanut brittle. You can find it at any big box retailer, grocery store, convenient store and probably some hardware stores. Sometimes hardware stores in the South serve as general merchandise stores. While commercially prepared peanut brittle is easy to find, the taste can’t compare to homemade. I realize that’s not much of a revelation. The same comparison could be made of most any commercially prepared food product. Homemade will always be better. For peanut brittle, the difference between homemade and commercial isn’t just in the taste, it’s the texture as well. Peanut brittle hardens and toughens as it ages. When you buy a box of peanut brittle at a retail store, you have no idea in which decade the stuff was made. Besides, what does the expiration date on a box of peanut brittle mean? Is that the date the product will start growing mold? Is it the date the aluminum foil package turns to tissue paper? Is it the date the peanuts start sprouting? I’m not questioning the safety of consuming the product up to the expiration date. I have no doubt it will be safe for human consumption. But, I can guarantee the quality is effected long before the expiration date.
Sarah Rutledge published the first known recipe for peanut brittle in 1847 in the Carolina Housewife. She titled the recipe “An Excellent Recipe for Groundnut Candy”. I find Groundnut Candy to be a delightful name. Occasionally, you can still find folks who refer to peanuts as groundnuts.
Peanut brittle has simple and common ingredients. The cooking method is similar to any candy that uses a syrup base. You cook sugar, corn syrup and water to a certain temperature, add peanuts, continue cooking, add vanilla and baking soda. Pour. There’s a great deal of stirring that goes on but not quite as much as you have to do for Pecan Pralines. Make sure you have a reliable candy thermometer. Cooking to an exact temperature is critical. If you can successfully get by with using the cold water method of testing stages for candy, I humbly bow before your presence. I recognize the different stages and can identify them when the hot sugar syrup drops into cold water. The issue I don’t know how to resolve is the frequency of testing. Once syrup starts heating up, it can stay on the same temperature for a good amount of time and then suddenly…BOOM….the temperature starts rising quickly. Unless you are constantly dipping out the syrup into the water, you could miss the mark and overcook your syrup. But that’s just my shortcoming. I’m glad I confessed it.
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Old Fashioned Peanut Brittle
Have all the ingredients gathered and properly measured before you start cooking peanut brittle. The syrup requires attention and doesn’t allow for time rummaging through pantries while it’s cooking. Also, make sure you use a pot that will give you lots of room for volume. Once you add the baking soda, the stuff’s going to erupt like a volcano. You don’t want that hot liquid getting on you. It will burn the fool out of you.
Yield: about 3 pounds of peanut brittle
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup white corn syrup (I use Karo)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups raw peanuts
3/4 teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
1 scant tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare one or two standard size cookie sheets by spraying with a non-stick spray, coating with butter or using a Silpat baking mat. I like peanut brittle about 1/2 inch thick. I just used one pan cover with a Silpat baking mat which is 11 1/2 inches by 16 1/2 inches. If you want thinner brittle, use two prepared cookie sheets.
Mix salt and baking soda and set aside. Measure out peanuts and vanilla.
Mix sugar, corn syrup and water in a pot. You want the mixture less than half the volume the pot will hold. The pot I used was about 1/4 filled with the mixture. Remember that considerable lava action will take place when you add the baking soda. You need lots of room in yo’ pot. I estimate my pot to be a 3 quart size and the mixture came right up to the very top after the baking soda was added. A 4 quart size would have been better. The trick with finding the right size pot is that the sides need to be low enough that you can use a candy thermometer.
Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it reaches 260 degrees. Add butter and raw peanuts. Continue cooking and stirring CONSTANTLY until the mixture reaches 310 degrees which took about 20 minutes.
Remove the pot from the stove. Now get ready! You’ll need to start stirring quickly. Add baking soda/salt mixture and vanilla extract. Stir! Stir! Stir! Pour into pan/pans and spread evenly with a wooden spoon. If you are going to be using two pans, you need a helper. Have them spread them mixture in one pan while you do the other one.
Let cool completely. Break into pieces. Eat as much as you can. Store the rest in an airtight container.
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