A few weeks ago I was up to my eyebrows in chocolate, caramel, and peppermint, making candy for a corporate holiday party. The party was candy-themed, a sensory explosion of the sweet and the playful. I made a Curry Cashew Brittle (thank you Bon Appétit!) that was beautiful to look at and completely addictive.
Usually I have no trouble taking a tiny taste of the sweets I make, but when brittle or toffee are on the table I can’t stop: the crunch, the slight bitterness of the caramelized sugar, the saltiness, the savory-ness of the nuts make one bite impossible. Adding curry powder intensifies the savory element in the most delightful way. I made brittle for family gifts boxes, each of which also contained a small jar of za’atar (recipe here), an herby, lemony Middle Eastern spice-blend comprised of toasted sesame seeds, sumac, thyme and salt. With za’atar at hand, I decided to try adding some to the brittle. Za’atar is wonderful sprinkled over just about anything. Added to brittle it is sensational, deepening the savory quality, and allowing one to think of this brittle as a pre-dinner treat, served, perhaps, with a glass of dry sherry or white wine. I like it for dessert, as is, but chopped up and either folded into or put over a generous serving of vanilla, or better yet, honey ice cream makes me imagine a more complicated dessert. Standby!
Brittle is not difficult to make, but you have to time everything perfectly. Make sure you measure out all of the ingredients and gather your equipment together before you start. You will not have time to hunt for things as you make this candy. I will show you how to make the brittle using a silicone baking mat (a great technique I just learned–thanks again, Bon Appetit), but if you don’t have one you can pour the brittle onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and spread the brittle out with an oiled metal spatula.
Cashews, za’atar, curry powder and salt in one bowl (gets added first). Butter and baking soda in another bowl (gets added last).
Add the water, sugar, and corn syrup (in that order) into the saucepan and gently stir to combine. The corn syrup helps to keep the sugar from crystallizing. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pan with a lid for a couple of minutes. Remove the lid. Wait for the bubbles in the syrup to start to get big and slow down–or, if you have a candy thermometer, take it to 230 degrees F. I highly recommend getting a Thermapen–every other candy thermometer I’ve ever used has stopped working soon after I bought it. I have at least five in my drawer that don’t work. Why haven’t I thrown them away? That I can’t tell you–hoping, perhaps that they will mend themselves.
Add the za’atar, curry powder, salt and cashews. Stir well until the nuts are fully coated and the spices are incorporated. Keep stirring until the the sugar is caramelized to a medium dark amber. Or, if you are using a thermometer, take it to 300 degrees F. Once the sugar is caramelized, immediately add the baking soda and butter. Stir vigorously until fully incorporated. Pour immediately onto a silicone mat. If you don’t have a silicone mat, pour it onto a oiled baking sheet.
The brittle is very hot at this point! I have what I call asbestos fingers, so I can tolerate hot temperatures, but you should wear either oven mitts or latex gloves. You will feel the heat through the mat. Gently fold the mat over the brittle pressing down to flatten slightly. Do not crease the silicone mat, as this will damage the mat.
Fold the brittle over onto itself alternating the direction from the short side to the long side (of the silicone mat ) with each turn. A total of six turns is good enough. The folding action adds a little air to the brittle, cools it down slightly and gets it to a state where it will be easy to stretch.
At this stage the brittle is still hot. Remember, my hands have a high tolerance for heat, so I’m not wearing gloves. You should wear gloves! Let it cool a bit and then gently pull it so that it more or less stays in one piece, but the brittle gets very thin.
It may start to tear apart in some places–that’s OK.