Halloween is the time for old-fashioned treats. Apple bobbing, caramel apples, popcorn balls and peanut brittle!
I first made peanut brittle as a child with my grandmother. It was simple, crunchy and delicious. She loved to make homemade candy and her peanut brittle was my favorite, though her fudge and pecan divinity were close behind.
Back when the nose-to-tail dining trend began, I was asked to create a dinner featuring pork. For a treat, I embellished my grandmother's brittle recipe to make a bacon-peanut brittle that was handed out as the parting gift at the end of the meal. And it was the hit of the evening! Of all the wonderful dishes that I created for that dinner, this is the only one that has become a staple in my kitchen.
Peanut brittle is easy enough for kids to make, though working with molten sugar requires adult supervision. Once you start cooking, the recipe moves rapidly along, so make sure you have everything set out next to the stove before you start. You also will need a large, heavy-duty saucepan, as the brittle foams up and expands at the end of the process.
You can use a candy thermometer to know when you've cooked the sugar to the so-called hard ball (255 F to 260 F) stage, or you can just use a cup of ice water. This is what my grandmother did and what my mother and I still do. Just fill a 2-cup measuring glass with water and ice. Keep it close to the stove. When you think the sugar is ready, drizzle a few drops into the ice water. If the small drops of the sugar syrup instantly turn into candy balls, the sugar base of the peanut brittle is done.
Once the sugar reaches the hard ball stage, the fun begins. You quickly add the peanuts, bacon and a bit of butter, then stir quickly. Next up, cook this delicious mixture to a light caramel. It should be lightly golden brown — the color of peanut brittle — and reach 300 F to 305 F.
Next, add the baking soda, stir vigorously and immediately pour onto a buttered baking sheet. Don't be afraid of the frothing mass in the saucepan! The baking soda makes the brittle bubble up to create the tiny bubbles in the peanut brittle, making it crunchy instead of just plain hard.
Bacon-peanut brittle (pig candy)
This brittle is crazy good and everyone loves receiving it. The trick is to buy thick, meaty apple wood-smoked bacon, then dice it and cook the bacon slowly until the fat is fully rendered and the meat is a reddish mahogany. Press the bacon pieces between paper towels to make sure all the excess fat is absorbed. If you don't do this, the candy will have a cloudy appearance.
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
Makes about 1 pound
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup salted, roasted peanuts
2 cups cooked, crumbled apple wood-smoked bacon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Use about 1/2 tablespoon of the butter to coat a rimmed baking sheet.
In a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly and slightly thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ancho chili powder and cayenne, then cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. The sugar mixture should now be at the hard ball stage, or 255 F to 260 F.
Stir in the remaining butter, as well as the peanuts and bacon. Continue cooking until the mixture is golden brown and reaches 300 F to 305 F. Stir well, then add the baking soda and stir again. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet and use a silicone spatula to spread evenly. Set aside to cool, about 30.
Once the brittle is cool, break into pieces by hitting the bottom of the sheet pan on the counter. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Nutrition information per serving (a 2-ounce serving): 480 calories; 190 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 580 mg sodium; 74 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 70 g sugar; 12 g protein.
Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books.