Thursday, December 22, 2011

Food: Melt-in-Your-Mouth Almond Brittle

Yes, Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas is now upon us. We’ve done the decorating and cookie baking and gift shopping and now it seems all that is left is to finish wrapping all the presents (unless you're one of those "day before Christmas" shoppers). But seeing how delinquent I've been in writing a blog entry recently (and the fact I'm still in disbelief Christmas will be here this weekend), right now I’ve decided to take some time out from gifts and wrapping paper and circle back to revisit Thanksgiving.  I know, I know...why circle back to the last holiday when the big one is upon us?  Because in this case, my Thanksgiving this year actually involved a perfect little sweet something for Christmas and a recipe I think you’ll all enjoy.

First I'd like to give you some context behind good-ol' "turkey day" in my family.  Like most of you, Thanksgiving for us involves a rather large meal with tons of homemade food (I think one year we had enough desserts for each person to have an entire maybe that doesn't make us normal).  But one thing that might make our Thanksgivings different is for years our meals were spent with a relatively small crowd (our family of four and a couple of close family friends).  Since it was the same group year after year and we spent the entire day eating and socializing together, we started creating annual activities to go along with the food and friendship...a tradition I like to call "holiday craft corner."  The craft making after meals was a good memory maker over the years and included such things as decorating novelty Christmas trees to making ornaments to designing jewelry.  The past couple of years this tradition has faded some (our family friends have moved away and my sister and I have gotten married and introduced a couple new faces to the table).  So this year, instead of the usual crafts, my Dad started a new tradition and taught my sister and I how to make his "famous" almond brittle.

My Dad's brittle is something that seems to instantly vaporize at parties.  If we give boxes of it away for gifts, the recipients usually end up fighting with their spouses or kids about who gets to eat the last piece (I've even known one person to hide the candy from the rest of their family members).  My Dad even made some of this candy for the cookie table at my sister's wedding and a couple of people were upset when they didn't also discover it at my wedding.  Yes, this candy causes hoarding-like behavior because it’s really, really, really good. If you could imagine the perfect sweet, this would qualify: it’s crunchy, buttery, sweet, and salty all in one. Not to mention melt-in-your-mouth. It’s decadent with some melted chocolate on the top but just as wonderful without.

Just to note, my Dad does claim a few tips that help lend to his candy making success.  And since he's being making it for years, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite turn out the first time have to develop an eye and a knack for knowing when the perfect color has been reached (even if it falls outside the timing guidelines in the recipe).  And you'll learn if you burn the batch it will taste bitter and if you undercook it, the mixture won’t harden the way you want it to.  But enough about that...I want to give you some things you can use as solid directions to go along with the "practice makes perfect" caveat:
  • Tip # 1:  Use a good quality butter to avoid sub-par results (my Dad also swears by using pre-salted butter)
  • Tip #2:  Use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to cook the candy (benefits of using cast iron for making candy are even and consistent heating and being virtually stick resistant)
  • Tip #3:  A flat-bottomed wooden spoon works best to stir the boiling candy and scrape it off the bottom of the pan
  • Tip #4:  If making multiple batches, clean the cast iron pan between batches

J.L.’s Famous Almond Brittle
(This is a family recipe that was passed down to us from my Mom’s Aunt Catherine)

  • ½ lb real butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 3 t water
  • 1 c sliced almonds
  • Pinch of salt

  • In a well seasoned cast iron skillet, add the butter, sugar, salt and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly
  • Keep the mixture at a boil while continuing to stir and scrape down the edges of the pan until the color changes to a light golden brown (Usually occurs ~7 min); Continue cooking the mixture about a minute longer until it becomes toaster brown (be careful not to overcook or it will burn and become bitter)
  • Remove from heat, quickly stir in the sliced almonds
  • Spread on buttered cookie sheet with a buttered spatula and cool completely
  • Coat with chocolate if desired and break into serving pieces
Special Note: If you want to top the brittle with chocolate coating, here are the instructions...
  • In a double boiler, melt a 50/50 ratio of almond bark and semi-sweet chocolate chips, stirring to blend
  • When mixture is completely melted, spread with a buttered spatula over the almond brittle and allow to cool before breaking into bite-size pieces

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