It’s fascinating how micro-trends pop-up on the interwebs. One day, Trend X is everywhere you look; the next, gone in a flash: Oreos in everything. Saffron in everything. Egg nog in everything.
This week alone, I’ve seen a dozen recipes for chewy, caramel-ly, nutty-somethings, just on the sites I regularly browse.
So I pinky-swear that I made this brittle before the deluge of nut caramels hit the interwebs. In fact, it started out as simple pistachio brittle, but then in subsequent rounds I added dark chocolate because it just seemed to be screaming for chocolate.
Or maybe that was me screaming. I can’t be too sure these days.
But then I scheduled this post for the week of Christmas because I thought no one would be doing a nut brittle just days before Christmas. Psych!
The interwebs always has a way of showing who’s boss (and it’s rarely me [pout]).
Caramel is so intriguing. You simply take sparkly, powdery sugar and melt it until it turns to a lovely brown liquid, and then heat it to the point where it’s guaranteed to harden when cooled. (Of course, sugary ingredients that are already in liquid form can help things along.) Add a little butter, a little vanilla, and you’ve got yourself some major league toffee.
Buttery caramel … all from innocent little sugar.
Pistachios are a highly-underrated nut, IMO. Look how pretty and festive they are atop the chocolate!
Oh, and nut brittles also make handy, last-minute Christmas gifts, as they store easily and last a long time.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
Dark Chocolate Pistachio Brittle
A note about light corn syrup: light, or “white,” corn syrup is not the same as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Both sweeteners are made from corn (as opposed to sugar or sugar beets, from which most of our granular sugars are derived), but HFCS undergoes additional processing to produce concentrated fructose and glucose at the same level of sweetness as straight-up sugar.
Some light corn syrups contain HFCS as an additional ingredient, some do not (check the labels). You cannot purchase standalone HFCS at the grocery store — it’s a commercial additive available to manufacturers, not consumers.
And here endeth today’s food science lesson. Just in case anyone is concerned about using corn syrup in their recipes.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield: Lots of brittle!
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped, divided
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean extract or paste
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa), chopped (or use chips)
1 teaspoon finishing salt, like Maldon’s. Gray sea salt is also delicious.
Special equipment: candy thermometer (or, in a pinch, instant read thermometer)
1. Line the back of a half sheet pan with a silicon mat (such as silpat) or parchment paper (if using parchment paper, first spray the surface with non-stick spray — this will help the sheet to adhere to the tray as you pour the caramel). Lay the pan flat on a stable surface (lined side up).
2. Heat sugar, syrup, salt and water in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, and insert the candy thermometer. Leave mixture to simmer without disturbing until the temperature reaches 300°F (hard crack stage). The mixture should turn a light amber color.
3. Remove pot from heat and place on a stable, heat-proof surface. Working quickly, stir in butter, vanilla, baking soda and 1/2 cup of the pistachios. Mixture will foam up – keep stirring. Beginning at one end of the lined pan, pour the caramel evenly onto the mat or paper. Use an offset spatula to smooth it into a solid sheet. Work quickly — the caramel will begin to hard in a matter of minutes. Let stand and cool for at least 15 minutes.
4. While the caramel layer is cooling, make the ganache. Heat a small pot of water to a gentle simmer, then place a heat-proof mixing bowl on top of the pot (or use a double boiler). Add the cream and allow to heat (cream will begin to foam or swirl). Add the chocolate, heat briefly, then stir until chocolate and cream are thoroughly combined, smooth and creamy. Pour the chocolate over the caramel layer and use an offset spatula to spread and smooth out.
5. Sprinkle the finishing salt and remaining 1 cup pistachios over the chocolate and use the flat of your hand to gently press the nuts into the chocolate. Set the pan aside to cool and set completely. (For a faster result, place the pan in the fridge, or outside if the weather is dry and cold.)
6. To break apart, gently bend up one end of the mat or parchment paper while pressing down on the center of the layer to create the first crack. From there, it should be easy to break by hand. Store in an airtight container.
Caramel-making tip: I see recipe after recipe that says to frequently brush down the sides of the pan with cool water to prevent crystallization. In all the years of making caramel, I have never done that. And I’ve never had a problem with crystallization. I don’t know for certain, but it might be because I always use a non-stick pot, or because I almost always add corn syrup to the mixture, which might inhibit sugar crystallization. But if you notice sugar crystals forming, do the brush thing.