Sunday, September 04, 2011

Is it brittle yet?

This isn't so much of a personal challenge (can I make brittle?) as a quest (how many different brittles can I make?)

But that's like starting in the middle of the story and it may get the reader's interest, but will it hold it?

Back to the beginning:
Last fall or winter, like MONTHS ago, I'm at my sister-in-law's and we're looking at a calendar cookbook she's just bought. Most of it is holiday and therefore I've seen it and seen it, but then there was this recipe for pistachio brittle. Now, that was different. Neither of us had heard of such. I got a copy of the recipe, told her I'd make it, and we'd find out if it was as good and different as it sounded.

It called for raw pistachios. How hard could that be? As it turns out, it was 8 months hard.

I fell in love with raw pistachios when my surrogate grandfather (had a whole surrogate family since the real ones lived far away), anyway, when my surrogate grandfather presented us (late '50s? early '60s?) with a mesh bag of this exotic-to-us nut called pistachio. We had to break them in two and there were skins and you'd get your fingers red eating them. Then, when pistachios really caught on there was, in the early '70s, the Watergate Cake, a cake made with pistachio pudding. It was green. And a Watergate Salad. And a Watergate scandal, but that's history.

It had been a while since I'd done anything with pistachios, so I set out to buy some. Roasted and salted pistachios were everywhere. Raw... no. Even at my favorite grocery store which stocks nuts in canisters, there was a sign that the nut was not about and they were sorry for any inconvenience. And so it went. For months. I finally caught a manager in the aisle and he said the shipment had been contaminated but the new crop was on its way. And, sure enough, the next week it arrived. At about $14/pound.

(Now the question could be raised that I didn't look elsewhere. True. Nor search on line. True. But if there were so many nuts available to roast and salt, why weren't there any raw ones? In other words, this tale maybe could have been shorter.)

I grabbed a cup's worth of raw pistachios and hunted up the recipe. Found it called for 2 cups. Well, piddle. I'd just cut it in half.

And I'm glad I did since stirring up that much brittle would have been a momentous job. Pouring it out onto two cookie sheets might have been beyond me for safety's sake. Half the recipe was enough anyway to know it was delicious and then whatever is better than delicious.

So, if it was good with pistachios, how would it be with almonds? Pecans? Hmmm...

A friend mentioned she'd made a walnut brittle and she gave the recipe. Well, it was different. No water. It was good, but I liked the texture of the first better. This sent me to Shirley Corriher's book on cooking and the section on candy in particular. Of course, she has a recipe for almond macadamia brittle. Just the idea takes your breath away, doesn't it? It contains water.

So now I'm on a quest. I'm going to make brittle for the library's annual Pumpkin Patch Bazaar. But what kind? Why not all? To that end, I'll need to experiment more. I've bought a new candy thermometer. It's huge. No more squinting to see that magic 300 degree mark. Not that I need that. At 300 is where it turns brown. According to my spouse's grandmother's peanut brittle recipe (no water), you toss everything together, heat it till it's brown, then add baking soda and pour. Not a thermometer in sight.

While my sister-in-law thought the pistachio brittle was excellent, the brittle connoisseur at this house has declared both of my so-far efforts very, very good. When am I making more?

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