November 8, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Oh the ever-addicting peanut brittle—you know, the treat you find everywhere during holiday months, often in special festive tins. There are good brittles and not-so-good brittles, and brittles made with ingredients other than peanuts: cashews, sesame seeds, almonds, toffee, to name a few.

Brittle as actually one of the oldest candies; one made with honey and sesame has been a favorite treat in the Middle East for millennia. Peanut brittle, as we know it today, likely comes from the 20th century American kitchen, at a time when there were many technological advancements and a variety of new foods becoming available (sugar, corn syrup, and shelled peanuts!)

Back then, peanuts were called groundnuts and earlier versions of brittle contained molasses, brown sugar and butter. (Next time, I will try adding molasses to mine!) By 1919, peanut brittle was prepared with sugar, corn syrup, Spanish shelled peanuts and baking soda. The purpose of the soda was so the “batch will be the same color on both sides, not yellow on one side and brown on the other.” (as reported on the Food Timeline website)

The holiday season always reminds me of my Aunt Mary’s spiced candied nuts, which we all devour at every family holiday gathering. I decided to incorporate the idea of spicy, salt and sweet into a brittle recipe, and what better ingredient to use than pumpkin spirit of autumn! I must warn you, this recipe is very delicious and very addicting. Proceed with caution.

Lesley’s Spiced Pumpkin Seed Brittle

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 ½ cups shelled unsalted pumpkin seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water

Heat a sauté pan over medium and add oil. Add pumpkin seeds and stir constantly until they begin to brown and crackle, about 5 minutes. Immediately remove from heat; stir in spices and ½ teaspoon salt.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Bring to a boil and cook until a deep amber color forms, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the pumpkin seed mixture and dissolved baking soda. Working quickly, poor the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it into a thin layer (the mixture will harden very rapidly). Sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Let cool until completely hardened, at least 1-2 hours, before breaking into shards.

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