Nut brittle is easy to make, travels well, and actually improves in flavor with age, making it the ideal treat to give as a gift or to fill your own candy dish at home. Some trace the history of peanut brittle to a resourceful Southern housewife who, in the late 1800s, added roasted peanuts and baking soda to a failed batch of taffy, creating brittle instead. Whatever its origins are, nut brittle became a much-loved holiday tradition, not only for its tempting flavor but also for how easy it is to prepare, even for a novice candymaker.
Brittle that’s made with peanuts grew even more popular in the 1900s as farmers in Virginia and Georgia increased their production of the nut. We added that other Southern powerhouse—pecans—to this version, as well as a handful or two of cashews and whole almonds for a tasty change of pace.
Active Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 1 hrs 30 mins
Yield: 2 pounds
- 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces, plus more for baking sheet
- 2 cups mixed nuts (such as toasted pecan halves; lightly salted, toasted pistachios; lightly salted, toasted almonds; cashews; or pumpkin seeds)
- 1 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons flaky finishing salt (such as fleur de sel)
- Rub an 18- x 13-inch baking sheet lightly with butter, or coat with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Stir together sugar, water, corn syrup, and fine sea salt in a heavy, 2-quart saucepan; attach a candy thermometer to side of pan. Place pan over medium-high, and cook, occasionally stirring gently with a wooden spoon, until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Once sugar syrup is clear and thickened, cook, undisturbed, until the thermometer reaches 230˚F to 235˚F (soft-ball stage), 5 to 7 minutes.
- Stir in butter, and continue cooking over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until butter melts, syrup starts to caramelize, and the thermometer reaches 300˚F to 305˚F (hard-crack stage), 6 to 8 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat; working very quickly, vigorously stir in the mixed nuts and peanuts just until completely coated in caramelized syrup.
- Immediately stir in baking soda and vanilla. Once the baking soda hits the hot, caramelized syrup, it will lighten and start to get foamy. As soon as ingredients are combined, pour hot candy onto prepared baking sheet. Using the back of a wooden spoon, quickly and gently spread mixture, pushing into a fairly thin layer that covers most of baking sheet. (A few holes are fine. It doesn’t need to be a solid sheet of candy.) Quickly sprinkle entire surface with flaky finishing salt. Let stand until brittle hardens, about 1 hour. Break into pieces. Store brittle in an airtight container or a ziplock plastic bag for up to 2 weeks.
For a thinner, more delicate brittle, you can “stretch” it: After spreading the brittle onto the baking sheet, cool slightly for a minute or two just until the candy is pliable but still too hot to touch with your bare hands. Run a long, thin spatula under the candy to loosen it from the baking sheet, and (wearing clean rubber gloves) lift the edges and gently pull and stretch the candy. Move into the middle, pulling gently without tearing it, to make the brittle slightly thinner. You can leave it on the baking sheet to do this, stretching over the sides of the pan, or turn it out onto a marble or granite countertop or cutting board to make it easier to work with.