A few weeks ago, my cousin Stan posted pictures of his homemade peanut brittle on facebook that grabbed my attention. When I expressed admiration for his efforts, I was rewarded with his tried-and-true recipe. I was grateful at first but now can only say,
Stan... what the f@#k?
Memory escapes me. Perhaps I once flipped him in a lawn chair or ate the last of his Grandma's rice pudding at a summer picnic. One thing is clear; I did something to piss the guy off and he has chosen this most sacred time of the year to exact revenge.
A cursory review of the recipe read fairly simply; no candy thermometer, totally microwaveable, with concise instructions to exercise caution throughout the process due to extreme heat of the product. I cheerfully gathered my ingredients, silently smug that I possessed the perfect equipment for the job including a large tempered glass measuring bowl with pour spout and handle. Ah, it's moments such as this one that we pause and congratulate ourselves for those wise party purchases. Stan recommended pre-measuring the peanuts, baking soda, vanilla and butter to avoid having to struggle with them at the boiling stage of the sugars. No sweat; I had cute little ramekins and soon had everything laid out a la the Barefoot Contessa.
The brittle sounded (& had looked) so yummy that I decided, wisely, to double the recipe. The calculations were no challenge to my advanced culinary skill.
I followed the directions to the letter and came up with a foamy, pale, sizzling mixture that I quickly dumped onto two cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Sure... it called for parchment paper, but that was waaaay back on the top shelf and not retrievable with a haphazard swipe on tiptoe; wax paper does the same thing, right??
When the result of my labor had thoroughly cooled, while still paler than I would like, it looked something like Stan's picture. My neice Haylie and I began to lift it from the paper and realized, first, that is was not at all brittle but more like a peanut taffy; soft and pliable. It smelled fine and a pinch from the side elicited a very nice, buttery-peanut flavor. Perhaps we had discovered a new delicacy! That's when we realized that the
shit was COMPLETELY BONDED to the ill-conceived choice of surface. File this in your brains, people, waxed paper does NOT equal parchment paper. Just so ya know.
We tried everything to remove the wax paper, to no avail. Once the edges were pulled away, it was impossible to even find the stuff against the taffy. "Just give it to them," Haylie suggested. "They'll never know." As an RN with no knowledge of the digestability of wax paper, I could not in good conscience allow family and friends to innocently scarf it down.
It didn't stop Haylie and I from enjoying it though; and I personally have had no issues. The fact that Haylie spent Sunday morning on the couch with a heating pad to her belly is related to a virus, I maintain.
Not one easily daunted by failure, I bought more corn syrup and was back at it Monday morning. I started by pitching the remaining waxy taffy to liberate my cookie sheets. Next, I pulled a chair up to the counter and climbed up to locate the frigging parchment paper- there it was- unbleached and organic even (from that healthy year). I lined the pans, measured the ingredients for a SINGLE batch, and set to work. So far, so good. Having heated the sugar and corn syrup for five minutes on HIGH, I pulled the bowl out and added my peanuts. I CANNOT RECOMMEND TASTING THE MIXTURE AT THIS STAGE if you have any plans to use the roof of your mouth over the holidays. As my brother Dan says, "I hate stupidity"!
Next was a two-minute cooking phase, followed by another stir and a decision. "Cook for another two to three minutes", it read. Well, hadn't I had taffy the time before? I was taking no chances as I hit the '3:00' and slammed the door. I detected a roasted peanutty aroma at around two minutes, something more pronounced at two-and-a-half, and veritable scorching at three. DONE! I added the butter, baking soda and vanilla (which, I should mention, creates a fun, scientific kind of crackling lava) and hurried to my waiting, properly lined pan.
No question of whether or not it is brittle this time; I could barely get it down fast enough.
Doesn't every magazine article, every tv show at this time of year, caution against consuming those excess holiday calories? There I was, salt still on my brow from my morning spin class, gnawing at a wooden spoon covered in molten, rapidly-hardening deliciousness. My cooling brittle was satisfyingly brown, and, feeling cocky, I made another batch with pecans. I stopped that one at two-and-a-half minutes; being the fast learner that I am.
I'm hoping that the brittle is enjoyed by those who receive it; the peanut may be over-done but at this point they can scrape their windshields with it for all I care; it looks reasonably normal and I am not doing it again.
Stan, let me thank you publicly for this humbling experience. No matter how accomplished we are, it is good to be periodically reminded of our intellectual frailties. I'm proud to say I've emerged from the Peanut Brittle Battle victorious!
By the way; my fudge turned out fine and will not need to be used as ice cream topping this year.
A Merry Christmas Everyone!