When I was in college there were a few low-cost things I'd make to make ends meet. This was one of them.
Actually, I started with donuts (this was back when canned biscuits were 10 x $1.00). I'd use the end of one of my school pens to punch holes in the dough, fry 'em up, shake them in a brown bag of cinnamon sugar, slip them onto a broom handle and go up & down the block, selling out in a flash at 25 cents each.
From there, I progressed to popcorn balls in shades of blue, green, red/pink and yellow (I think the recipe may have called for yellow & I just used the other colors instead of buying more yellow once it ran out - I can't remember any more).
After the donuts & popcorn balls had me "rolling in dough" (I was more than doubling my money daily; never had "leftovers"; and, had no real overhead ~ bliss!), I moved up to brittle. (I really liked the foaming up point with the baking soda '-)
This was all over 30 years ago, and since then I've gotten quite good at both brittle & toffee.
They are simple, but deman the best quality of the scant ingredients for the very best results.
Use real butter. I like Irish & organic best.
Use fresh, or freshly roasted nuts. Enhance their flavor by passing them through an oven until their aromatic first.
Sugar matters. We go with "Florida Crystals" over here, but there are lots of options.
Though we buy the big resealable bags of baking soda at Costco, I always grab a small fresh box when making brittle. It absorbs odors so easily, and is so low-cost, there's really no reason not to open a fresh box day-of.
As for add-ins:
We did the bacon in many variations and ultimately preferred the one where we rendered the bacon of almost all traces of fat first - leaving lean tasty pieces. It took eons, and was akin to removing milk solids from butter. Low and slow on a back burner for ages & ages to accomplish - but "worth it".
OH! The timing for adding add-ons: After the baking soda, but only by an instant! The ingredients to add-on are right there, ready to go by the deep pot and go in all at once.
A quick stir to incorporate and it's time to spread the whole out onto the pan.
I like using rimmed cookie sheets I've smeared some saved butter wrappers across. That way, in the end, they are easy to remove whole (I back mine with covered cardboard as a backing, then, wrap with parchment and tie with string.) The same goes for my slabs of toffee. I'm not one for "broken bits".
Back to add-ons:
Coconut was supreme with the almonds / macadamia nuts - (separate)
Spanish peanuts with chilis del arbol previously dry roasted in the bottom of the dry pan the sugar was next poured into were a big hit - I used kitchen shears to snip the dry roasted thin red peppers into pretty rounds (very thinly).
This led me to making a brittle of reserved dry chili pod seeds - both with peanuts & without peanuts. It was "interesting" - only tiny bits at a time,,, and I roasted the seeds first, the same as the chilis del arbol (before adding the sugar).
This led me to make one with the vinegar from canned jalapenos en escabeche. It was good. Much more "addictive" than the one with seeds! (My popcorn ball recipe called for vinegar and I figured, What the heck? '-)
This led to making one with peanuts and chipotles (smoked jalapenos from a tin - great with scrambled eggs!). It was best when first turned to a paste before incorporating.
Then, I made some with candied ginger & oodles of sesame seeds. That was awesome!
When apprenticing with a Michoacan carnitas maker I learned to brown some sugar in a cast iron skillet, add that to the pot of lard and pork for "color"...
The taste of sweet & pork led me to make brittle with fresh shreds of carnitas ~ Crazy yummy stuff! My mouth's watering at the memory! :-)
Then, I tried some with chicharrones. Killer good!
Neither of those had nuts.
I really like mole, so I added a large scoop of mole base - which does NOT loosen up quicker in the super high heat, though I thought it would, so know that up front & I've never tried loosening it up with some broth for fear of ending up with an gooey mess...
The mole base brittle was absolutely wonderful!
I did it with whole almonds spread very thin (excellent!) & with almond slivers (not so good) & with sliced almods (A-OK - also spread very thin) Ideally, I'd like to get this one to be more mole candied almonds...
My girls like walnuts, so I tried that. They weren't gaga for it & neither was I...
I ground sushi nori sheets up into a batch and made a huge hit with those (peanuts)...
That led me to repeat the sushi nori & add dried minnow fishes - awesome wonder of tastiness!
That led me to try dried shrimp powder + sushi nori powder - the fishes were better.
That led me to try unpowdered shrimps (dried whole) - better, but the fishes beat the shrimps by far...
We all love both macadamia nut pie & pecan pie, but there was never a taste we were looking for accomplished with pecans... something was always missing.... I think it's a textural thing mostly, but there was an absent flavor going on, too...
What I want to locate is a pan with many small sections for spreading it out and having it come out in squares of uniform size - I haven't found anything yet - the closest I've come is a 12-count mini hearts-shaped thin pan (small enough to fit a toaster oven, but even it didn't flex the way I hoped for popping them out afterward (I won't use silicone)...
Any tips in that direction are quite eagerly sought! :-)
After playing out the brittles, I moved to gourmet popcorns & then, for the past 2 -3 years: Toffees...
If it's bacon & brittle you're after, my best advice is: Use the very best ingredients & do the bacon low & slow in a saucepan for hours to render all the fat and end up with just pure lean pieces of excellence.
And I did the bacon (2) ways:
1- I passed it under the broiler in one layer with sugar
2- I added it without the sugar broiling
There was no difference in taste, so skip the added step with the sugar & broiler is my advice.
ALSO: If gifting this:
I always use parchment paper & string, sometimes setting that into pretty boxes. I never use tins, but can't remember why that is - Does it need to "breathe"? I've forgotten the reason for that...
I also never put it into jars - for the same reason as not using tins, but can't recall what that is...
I am in awe! Write a candy book already - I will be your first customer. How cool were you in college! I only have about 50 questions and comments but will cut them back. What kind of sugar is Florida Crystals? I'm with you that all sugar is not created equal. Is it a cane sugar or beet (more common than many realize).
Of the non-carnivore :-) brittles, that sesame and ginger had my mouth watering. What is your treatment of the ginger?
To get squares: I don't know where you'd get one but in France, caramel makers use a big board with edges and adjustable rules to get the size of square they want. Wonder if that would work for brittles.
You mentioned you make toffee too. Are your brittles a hybrid of brittle and toffee b/c of the butter? Is there a lot of stirring when making the brittle?
How did you resolve the mole brittle? That's a fascinating flavor idea! Did it eventually loosen up or . . . ?
Thanks for the advice about not bothering to sugar-broil the bacon. When you cook it so thoroughly, does it become quite hard in the brittle? As in more challenging to the dental work than the brittle itself? I'm likely the only person in the world who can't take super crispy bacon as it feels weird to the tooth. On the other hand, if you left it softer would it go "off" or deleteriously affect the texture of the brittle itself?
I'm with you on storage. Over the years I've become so particular about how baking and (what little bit of) candy I make is stored. Yet I've forgotten some of the reasons why. A lot of things just do not do well in these air-tight containers that everyone is always touting. Even on a quick bread or cake, the little bit of crisp makes all the difference. I have some nice tins with almost mesh sides that I transport things in; the "design-ish" people always compliment the look of them - I don't even bother explaining it's to keep things nice. In sealed jars the moisture from the actual product (like toffee) seems to work against the texture. I guess they do need air. On the other hand, Florida (if that's where you are) is so humid. Even with a/c Toronto's summer humidity makes storage a big problem - so I especially value YOUR storage advice.
Thanks for a great post SusanaTheConqueress.
re: cinnamon girl
Golly geez! Thank you for the compliments! :-)
I'll click through your post with responses, ok?
1. 100% sun-sweetened sugar cane
2. I never chop the ginger and always rely on the "mush from a microplane - the fibers end up so teensie "they don't count" - This cannot be said of mincing the ginger though - I don't think the texture with mincing will ever be "acceptable"
2b. There's a condiment known as "Red Bean Chili Paste" - it's popular with Korean cooking & is killer with a simple pot of steamed rice. Try a big glob of that mixed in by itself, or with ginger for a wonderful taste treat! :-) (No nuts, but sesame is A-OK
)2c. Ginger that's been diced and candied isn't pleasant in brittle - too "gummy" / "Chewy" - the texture's off...
3. The only time I tried powered ginger was when I was shooting for a "bulgogi" version ~ It didn't work out; the taste of honey wasn't there even though I put more & more - and increasingly intense honeys ~ no luck with bulgogi version, but it would be wonderful, were it possible (Maybe another will have the success that's elluded me so long on that one '-)
4. I saw the show with that board! I can't justify the expense and I surely don't have the space, but it'd be tres cool! "-) I need something like the ubber-thin "hojas" for baking in the adobe outside fire-fed ovens in rural Mexico, but with squares ~ the squares take the flex away ~ It's a conondrum! "-)
5. Brittles & Toffees are maybe "kissing cousins"? But they aren't alike. Brittle is more forgiving than toffee any day of the week, IMHO. I've never "ruined" a batch of brittle, but I've had my toffees come out to grainy, etc ~ One of my favorite things to do it stir-stir-stir the toffee whereas I never stand there stirring the brittle's pot.
6b. There's a flurry of stirring once the add-ons go into the brittle pot, that's for sure! Calphalon makes some excellent wooden spoons I use ~ Let me see if I can find them online for you:
As you may imagine, in 30+ years now I've gone through quite a sampling of stirrers & these are the ones I like the best, (so far) '-
)7. The way I got around the mole problem was to "cheat" - once the brittle's just about "there", I take some out - about 2 cups - and put it into an 8-cup Pyrex measuring bowl with handle where I've already placed the chunk of mole base and spent the last several minutes stabbing at it with a chef's knife. There's a Zen to it. '-)
Eventually, it's into "morsels, but nobody wants a "morsel of mole base", so it still needs "help". To help it get there I use the _backside_ of a wooden spoon to mash-mash-mash the mole base with the almost-but-not-quite brittle (Which is hellishly hot, so use the handle and be _careful!_ Once the mole base is "loosened" with the soon-to-be brittle I pour it back into the brittle's pot, but _make sure_ to pass it from the measuring cup through a large metal strainer set over the brittle's pot. You may be surprised how much punch a little dab of mole base packs! Avoid dabs of solid mole base,
I haven't done it, yet, just because I have a feeling it'll be a huge disaster, but I truly want to mix the mole brittle with ... ___rice___ ~ Mole & RIce are the perfect marriage! I've thought about Rice Krispies & day-old rice, but never gotten up the gumtion to "go for it"... Maybe it's not meant to be?
What's really appealing to me is some way to get the mole brittle to encase whole almonds as individual candies... OMGosh that would be _such_ a wonder! :-)
8. The low & slow bacon doesn't end up hard at all. It's the same texture as pan fried, but without all the pesky fat to peel away. (I had an ex-Hare Krishna roomie in the early 80s who'd meticulously do that - drove me bonkers! - I haven't been a fan of peeling fat from bacon ever since. "-)
If you don't mind the greasy-hands feel, you could eliminate a lot of the fat up front, but I'm simply not one to go through handling raw bacon more than necessary + I've liked making ghee at home since 1992, so it reminds me of that '-)
I don't suppose "soft" but well-done (oxymoron?) bacon would be detrimental to the end product, if you're really adamant about not biting into a hard piece of bacon, but know this: The brittle will _always_ be harder than the bacon ~ _Always_
I don't think it's "worth it", but I suppose you could go for the Hormel type already done up bacon... I never have & never will ~ There's just not a good vibe around that, you know what I mean?
9. I'm in sunny So, Cal., USA ~ equidistant from Los Angeles, San Diego & Palm Springs + 7 minutes from where Arrowhead Springs Water is pumped out for sale :-)
We have a 100+ acre family farm in Florida, but I'm not headed there to return for some many years yet, (I hope!) '-)
10. You're right about the moisture! That's it! The reason for wrapping in parchment is to keep moisture from building up. Reading that part of your closing paragraph reminded me: The refrigerator (Known for drying things out) also is not a friendly place for any of these items; it seems to leach a syrup; and, anything left in there ends up "icky". Best to rely upon parchment & your (They sound wonderful!) containers with mesh sides!
I've added you as one of the folk I read here; I love your passion; and I hope we cross paths on the vast boards of Chowhound, again.
A friend of my son's gave me some of the Sir Francis Bacon pb brittle for Christmas. It's pure evil all right. Terrible stuff. He had ordered it from Dean and Deluca, so expected it to be great. I love bacon, peanuts and brittle, but this batch was either rancid or otherwise compromised.
OMG, I just made Bacon Brittle last week - seemed like a great thing to do while housebound during our DC double blizzards!
I had been given the book Everything Tastes Better With Bacon for a Christmas present and there is a recipe - Try-it-you'll-like-it Bacon Brittle! This recipe uses chopped pecans, which is pretty tasty, but you could just use peanuts if you want! Not hard to do at all. I believe someone has copied it to a webpage, so if you don't have the book and want to try it - just do a search!
I do think it would make quite a bit of difference in what bacon you use. I've tasted dozens of different types (was a recipient for two years of 'Bacon of the Month Club'!) so just choose your favorite.
Followed the link & I'm sure the stuff is delicious, but Sir Francis Bacon was one of the foremost scholars of the English tradition, and there's something a bit off in the way the company has appropriated his name and image here.
Kind of like that company "Bubbie's" that makes amazing pickles, but with nary an actual Bubby to be found on the owners' family trees.
so I poured it all in the baking tray (as you can see above), but I didn't have enough sugar. It was all a bit of a guess. Still came out ok, and now I have quite an amount of brittle. No way I can eat it all, but I'll share it. Probably cost me about £4 in ingredients?
I actually meant to ask more questions before making it, but it probably doesn't matter. The bacon I used was like gammon rather than crispy streaky, but I'm not sure it matters.
OK, I made my own today, first time I ever made it, I just threw it together.
I got some smoked bacon mis-shapes (was gonna get some lardons for chili anyway) and sliced this quite thin. Threw that in a real hot pan with some veg oil and cookd well.
Removed the bacon and added the peanuts to the fat, stirring them around.
While that was going on, the sugar was melting down. I've had an annoying rock of sugar in the can that I've not been able to break down, so it's a perfect use for it.