When I was a kid, I went to school with a few kids from a church that made peanut brittle every Christmas.  It came in rounds the size of pie tins, and it was the best peanut brittle I’ve ever had.

I’ve made a lot of peanut brittle myself over the years, but none of it was as good as that was. 

Then I picked up a copy of Sweet Confections.  I’ve been a huge fan of BonBonBar for years, so when I heard she was closing shop, I got in one last order of candy bars – and a copy of her cookbook.

It’s been taunting me on the counter for a couple of weeks, and finally I managed to get all the ingredients together for her peanut brittle recipe. 

It starts with sugar, corn syrup, and water in a pan, cooked to 250F.  Then, you add the peanuts and some butter, and stir, until  it gets to 320F. I’d never tried that before – all the other recipes I’d tried cooked the syrup, then just poured it over the peanuts.

Add a bit of kosher salt, some vanilla for flavor, and baking soda for texture, then pour it out onto parchment paper.

Peanut Brittle The recipe said to spread it with an offset spatula, but I don’t have one, and my marble rolling pin was already out on the counter, so I sprayed a silpat with pam, laid it on top, and ran the rolling pin over it a few times.  I ended up with perfectly flat brittle.

Peanut Brittle 

After half an hour of cooling, I broke it into pieces.  It shattered perfectly.

Peanut Brittle

And it was really good.  It’s very peanut-y, the candy is caramelized enough to give it depth, and the kosher salt gives it tiny pockets of saltiness.  You could add cinnamon or cayenne pepper (I like ancho chili pepper, too, for smokiness), but I didn’t.  It was good just the way it was.

I’ve made 4 batches over the last week.  They’re all gone now.  And the best measure of a brittle is how fast it disappears!

( see the recipe )

(The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!)

This month was candy.  I make a lot of candy, but I don’t usually try it in August in Houston.

I made three different types this month – the first one was a batch of sponge candy.  Well, actually, it was two batches, but the first batch flopped so badly I had to toss it.  The idea is to cook the sugar to 285F or so, then take it off the heat, and add baking soda.  The baking soda reacts with the sugar mixture, and creates lots of little bubbles in the candy as it cools. 

The first batch I burned badly, and it had to be tossed.  The second batch came out much better:

Sponge Candy

I didn’t really want to dip it in chocolate – I was afraid the holes would fill up and it would be a mess.  So I just drizzled some dark chocolate on top.  It turned out very good – next time I’ll mix it a bit more and hopefully the bubbles will be a bit smaller.

Then I did a batch of Nutella balls.  I have a recipe for peanut butter cups that takes one cup of good peanut butter and half a cup of confectioner’s sugar.  I substituted Nutella for the peanut butter, and got these:

Nutella truffles

I put them in the fridge to set up a bit while I made peppermint patties.  I’ve made these before, and they’re also very simple – a little confectioner’s sugar, some peppermint extract, some butter for richness, and a bit of cream to bring it all together.  Everything gets mixed and shaped:

Daring Bakers: Candylicious!

And then those went in the fridge.  They’re sitting on powdered sugar so they don’t stick to the plate. 

An hour later, I tempered some chocolate to dip them in.  There are no intermediate pictures, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that melted chocolate and a good camera should never be on the kitchen counter at the same time. 

But I gently melted 3/4 of the chocolate in the microwave, then added the other 1/4 as seed chocolate to temper it.  Then the peppermint patties and nutella truffles got dipped.  Unfortunately, I was an idiot and sat them down on a cold plate, where they stuck.  A few of the chocolate shells broke when I tried to get them off the plate.  Usually, when I do a big batch of chocolates, I put them on parchment paper, which can be peeled off easily.

This was the final result:

Chocolate!

It was a fun challenge!  Looking forward to next month!

( see the recipes )

Root Beer Marshmallows 

Marshmallows may be the easiest candy I’ve ever made. 

They don’t require precise temperature control, hours of stirring, or split-second timing.  All you need is a stand mixer and some patience.

I’ve done regular marshmallows quite a few times, but never tried flavoring them.  Then I saw a link to various flavored marshmallow recipes, and I had to try this one.

It’s from Garrett’s Table, and it’s not really much different from a standard marshmallow recipe.  Some of the sugar and corn syrup are replaced with root beer syrup.

The recipe said to simmer down 2 liters of root beer until it was reduced to 1.5 cups.  That’s a lot of simmering.  Before and after:

Root Beer MarshmallowsRoot Beer Marshmallows

I started with it on medium heat, but it was taking forever.  Even on high, it took nearly an hour to reduce all the way down.  Next time, I’m going to skip this step entirely, and just buy the flavored soda syrup you get for a home soda machine.

Once you have it reduced, bloom 3 packages of unflavored gelatin in some cold water in your mixer bowl.  Add sugar and corn syrup to the reduced soda, and bring it back to a boil.

Then comes the patience:  set the mixer on low, and very slowly pour the hot syrup into the mixer.  You want to pour it as slowly as you can – it should take several minutes at least.  I used a pan with a pour spout on the side, but you could also use a glass measuring cup, or even some sort of heat-resistant squeeze bottle.

When you’re done, turn the mixer to high, and don’t mess with it for 10 minutes.  It will slowly start whipping up like whipped cream or egg whites – don’t stop it, don’t scrape down the bowl, just leave it alone.Root Beer Marshmallows

While it’s whipping, prepare the pan.  I greased a 13×9, then lined it with parchment paper, then greased the inside of that.

At the end of 10 minutes, you should have something that looks like egg whites around the "soft peak" stage.  Add the extract – he called for root beer extract, but I didn’t have any, so I used a tablespoon of vanilla and a few drops of root beer oil (a very concentrated candy flavoring).

Pour it into the pan, then spray a piece of plastic wrap with pam, and press it on top.  Put the pan in the refrigerator for a few hours.

When it’s time to cut them, peel off the plastic wrap, and lift the parchment paper out of the pan.  You can use a buttered knife to cut them, but a pizza cutter also works well.  I didn’t think they needed powdered sugar, but if you do, sprinkle some on top.

They come out tasting just like a root beer float – the root beer flavor really works with the creaminess of the marshmallow.  And when you share them, people will say, "Wow!  You can make marshmallows at home?".

( see the recipe )

Toffee!

I decided the perfect snack food for the weekend would be a batch of blondies.

We love blondies, and there’s a great bakery down the road that makes amazing ones – buttery and gooey without being cloyingly sweet.

So I went looking for a blondie recipe this afternoon, and found the Bobby Flay recipe on Food Network. I had everything except the toffee chips.

But I have a great toffee recipe. Mine is normally made with nuts and covered in chocolate, but can easily be simplified. I cooked it just a little hotter then it called for, just over 300F instead of 290F, just to make sure it would break cleanly.

The most important part of making any candy is having a good thermometer. I’ve bought a lot of them, and for a long time I despaired of ever finding one that worked. I’ve done the analog ones with dials, the probe-type ones, and I even tried one of the IR types you just point at the pan. None of them worked consistently.

Then I bought a Thermapen. It’s fast, precise, and accurate. Yes, it was expensive, but I’d spent more the that on an entire drawer of cheap thermometers that didn’t work. And I’ve never had another temperature-related candy failure since.

Anyway, I cooked the toffee to 300F, and instead of pouring it over nuts into a 13×9, I poured it out onto a SilPat on a cookie sheet. It took about half an hour to cool enough to be brittle, then I used the back of a heavy knife to shatter it into small pieces. Half of them got saved for blondies tomorrow – the other half are going to be snacks for later.

Because woman cannot live by blondies alone.

( see the recipe )