Brittle is a confection of hard candy embedded with nuts such as pecans, almonds, or peanuts; Oriental and Middle-Eastern variations use sesame seeds instead of nuts. A mixture of sugar and water is heated to the hard crack stage, approximately 300°F (149°C), and nuts are mixed with the melted caramelized sugar. At this point spices, leavening agents like baking soda, and often peanut butter or butter are added. The hot candy is poured out onto a greased flat surface for cooling.
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons corn syrup
4 Tablespoons water
1 3/4 cups almonds (whole or slivered)
Butter, for greasing cookie sheet
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves
In a saucepan, cook the sugar, corn syrup and water on medium heat. Stir until the sugar begins to liquefy. The quantity of water is enough to dissolve all the sugar crystals, but small enough to minimize the evaporation time. The sugar will start to bubble vigorously. Continue to cook stirring occasionally. The bubbling will decrease and the color of the sugar will start to turn from yellow to brown. When the sugar has a rich brown color, add the almonds and the flavoring; mix well. Avoid getting a very dark color because then the sugar will have a bitter taste. Continue cooking and stirring for a few minutes until the almonds are fully coated. Remove the almond-sugar mixture from the heat and pour it onto a buttered cookie sheet. Working quickly, spread the mixture to the desired thickness. A marble rolling pin lightly coated with butter may be used to flatten the hot mixture. Let it cool until warm to the touch and cut it into bars or squares with a sharp cleaver, or wait until it is completely cold and break it by hand into smaller pieces.
How to prevent caramel crystallization
Caramel crystallizes when the sugar cools below its melting point and the molecules of sugar arrange themselves into regular patterns. The glossy, transluscent caramelized sugar transforms into a grainy and dull sugar mass as illustrated below.
Sugar crystals normally form around a microscopic nucleus that may be a dust particle, a cold spoon or any type of impurity. Crystals also tend to form on the sides of the pan as the water evaporates from the boiling syrup. Some typical suggestions to avoid crystallization of caramel include 1) using a very clean pan with no residues from previous cooking, 2) not stirring the sugar syrup as it boils to prevent the spoon from triggering crystallization, 3) brushing the sides of the pan with water to keep all the sugar dissolved, and 4) adding corn syrup to the sugar. Of these four methods, only the addition of corn syrup works consistently to prevent crystallization. The reason for this is that corn syrup is a mixture of glucose and fructose, whereas table sugar is only sucrose. Crystallization cannot occur when molecules of different sizes and shapes are mixed together during the cooling process because they cannot form regular patterns. The amount of corn syrup should be just enough to prevent crystallization (about 1 1/2 teaspoons to 2 teaspoons of corn syrup per cup of sugar). Too much corn syrup produces a caramel that stays sticky after it cools.