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What's the purpose of using baking soda in some brittle recipes?
By Renee Shelton

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Baking soda helps to neutralize the acidity in the candy, and in some cases makes it lighter. According to the book "Cookwise," by Shirley O. Corriher,

"Some specialty brittles on the market are very flaky and airy. These are made using acid and a larger amount of baking soda. The acid and the baking soda form carbon dioxide gas, which puffs up the candy."

Not all brittles contain baking soda or an acid such as lemon juice or corn syrup. Some nut brittles consist entirely of just sugar, first caramelized, and then mixed together with the nuts, carefully stirred in at the end to avoid crystallization.

When pouring the mixture, it is best to do it over a large, cool surface, like a large marble surface, giving you the room to spread and stretch it if you desire. You can stretch and pull it into your desired shape or size with buttered hands (when cool enough) or with the help of two forks. The ideal is to make it as thin and 'brittle' as possible. If you do not have a marble table, a very large baking sheet can be used. All surfaces should be buttered well before the candy is poured.

If a recipe calls for a very large amount of nuts (and generally all nut brittles do), it can be helpful to warm them up slightly before adding them to the hot sugar mixture. This is will give you a bit more time working with and stretching the brittle because if a large amount of cold nuts are added to the hot sugar, it will set up faster.

Below are some unique brittle recipes and some old favorites for you to experiment with.

Brazil Nut Maple Brittle
This recipe uses Brazil nuts and both maple sugar and maple syrup. Molasses gives it an extra richness and unique flavor. The recipe is adapted from a candy book from the '50s, "The Candy Book."

3 cups maple sugar
1 cup cold water
1 cup molasses
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Cream of tartar
1/2 cup butter, no substitutions
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup Brazil nuts, chopped

Cook the maple sugar, water, molasses, maple syrup and a pinch of cream of tartar until the temperature reaches 300°F. Add in the butter and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add in the baking soda that has been dissolved in the boiling water, and the lemon extract. As soon as the mixture begins to foam pour out onto a buttered surface, spreading out very thin. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts immediately. Allow to cool and break into irregular pieces.


Puffed Rice Brittle
This recipe is adapted from Wilton's "The Complete Wilton Book of Candy," and contains both Spanish peanuts and puffed rice cereal.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
1 cup roasted Spanish peanuts
2 cup puffed rice cereal
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Place the nuts and cereal on a sheet pan in the oven, set at the lowest temperature, just to keep warm. Butter your surface(s) for pouring.

In a large (4 qt.), heavy saucepan, place water, sugars and corn syrup and stir over low heat until sugars are dissolved. Wash sides and cook until 270°F. Reduce heat to low and watch the temperature carefully. When it reaches 290°F, add in the butter, nuts and cereal. Cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add in the salt and baking soda. Carefully pour onto prepared surface(s). You can score while candy is still warm or wait until cooled and break into irregular pieces.


Classic Peanut Brittle
Using no syrup or sugar thermometer, this recipe consists of simply adding warmed, buttered peanuts to the caramelized sugar. Use a heavy wooden spoon when stirring the sugar as it caramelizes and turns to a liquid state, and stir it constantly. This is adapted from "Choice Candy From Your Own Kitchen."

1 tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cups salted peanuts, broken
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups sugar

Melt butter in small saucepan over very low heat. Add peanuts and salt. Let warm. Put sugar in a 12 inch heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar begins to melt, and continue until it turns into a golden brown syrup. Do not burn sugar. Quickly stir warmed peanut mixture into the syrup. Pour onto buttered surface and spread out with a high temperature spatula. Then, when just cool enough, begin pulling the candy into a thin sheet. Let cool completely and break into irregular pieces.


Coconut Brittle
This recipe uses fresh grated coconut, and is adapted from "Candy," of The Good Cook series.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups fresh grated coconut

Combine sugar, syrup and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to boil while stirring. Once it begins to boil, stop stirring and continue to boil until syrup reaches 112°C (234°F). Add the butter and salt and continue to cook until hard ball stage, 130°C (264°F). Add in baking soda and coconut, and pour over buttered surface. Break into irregular pieces when cool.


Sunflower Brittle
This recipe was adapted from an unknown magazine clipping and put in my personal recipe box years ago. Use plain roasted or raw sunflower seeds, not the salted kind, for this candy. This makes a great summertime sweet.

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cup plain roasted or raw sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda

Bring sugar, corn syrup and water to a boil while stirring. Once it starts to boil, stop stirring and continue to cook until it reaches 260°F. Add in sunflower seeds and the butter. Continue to cook until until it reaches 300°F. Remove from heat and add in the vanilla and baking soda. Pour over a buttered surface. Break into irregular pieces when cool.


Almond Brittle
This recipe was adapted from a step-by-step recipe from the November, 1988 edition of Good Housekeeping magazine.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 10-oz pkg slivered blanched almonds, about 2 1/4 cups if purchasing in bulk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a heavy, 2-qt saucepan, heat sugar, corn syrup, water and salt, stirring until it begins to boil and sugar is dissolved. Add in the almonds and cook until it reaches 300°F, stirring frequently. Once the mixture begins to darken deeply, stir constantly. Remove from heat and add in the butter and baking soda. Pour on buttered surface and quickly pull the mixture with two forks into a rectangle about 12" x 14". Cool and break into irregular pieces.


Hazelnut Brittle
Adapted from "The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook," it contains 4 ingredients: sugar, water, apple cider vinegar and hazelnuts. While the original doesn't specify a temperature to cook it to, a recommendation is to cook it to a hard crack stage. You may substitute other nuts if desired.

4 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
5 1/2 cups hazelnuts, lightly toasted

Combine sugar, water and vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until amber in color, about 20 minutes, brushing the sides when necessary to avoid crystallization. Add in the nuts. Pour onto an oiled 12x17 inch pan and set until firm but soft enough to cut. Invert onto a cutting board and unmold. Using a large oiled chef's knife, cut the rectangle into even pieces. Alternatively, pour over buttered surface, let cool and break into irregular pieces.

References used:

Berolzheimer, Ruth, Ed. The Candy Book: Everything you need to know about making... New York: Consolidated, 1950.

Corriher, Shirley O. Cookwise: the hows and whys of successful cooking. New York: William, 1997.

Editors of Time Life Books. The Good Cook Techniques and Recipes. Candy. First printing. Alexandria: Time-Life, 1981. Note: this recipe is not in the French edition: Les Confiseries par Les Rédacteurs des Éditions Time-Life.

Editors of Farm Journal. Choice Candy From Your Own Kitchen. Philadelphia: Countryside Press, 1971.

Institute. "Step by Step: Almond Brittle" Good Housekeeping. November. 1988.

Martha Stewart Living, ed. The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. New York: Martha Stewart, 2000.

Sullivan, Eugene T. and Marilynn C. Sullivan. The Complete Wilton Book of Candy. Woodbridge: Wilton, 1981.

Recipes from the files of Renee Shelton.

Image courtesy Flickr, user Accidental Hedonist, via a Creative Commons license.

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