Monday, December 16, 2013

The Charlie Browniest Time of Year - Part I


"There must be something wrong with me, Linus.  Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy.  I just don't feel like I'm supposed to feel." 

It's not just you, Charlie Brown, believe me.  Every day the calendar* creeps closer to December 25 makes it 15 minutes harder to get up in the morning, and hours harder to climb into bed at night. I could easily be completely wiped out by Thursday.

I don't think I will be.  Because I have people around me with blue blankets** and many moments during these long stressful days that do give me that good Christmas feeling.

The one I'm supposed to feel.

There was a charity pop-up bakery this weekend that completely fit my mood.  

Almond, Pecan and Cacoa Nib Brittles | Cheesy Pennies

Walking in with my contribution was one of the good moments***.   Not a cure, by any means.  Just a really, really nice break.

Bacon, Rosemary and Cacoa Brittles | Cheesy Pennies

Rosemary Almond Brittle (and variations!)

by Sharon Graves
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
Making candy is one of those things, like baking bread with yeast, that kind of scares people.  Which is rational because boiling hot sugar will completely burn the flesh off of your body, and yeast is essentially harmless.  Nevertheless, it's both doable and totally worth a try.  Particularly if you get this buttery treat as a result. The basic brittle recipe is incredibly versatile, so have fun with all kinds of combinations!  Idea sources: this recipe and this recipe, both from Food 52, and my own delectable bacon brittle.

    Basic Brittle
    • 2 c. sugar
    • 1/2 c. water
    • 1/2 c. light corn syrup
    • 2 Tbs. butter
    • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    • 1 tsp. coarsely flaked sea salt (like Maldon) for finishing
    Rosemary Almond Variation
    • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary
    • zest of 1 medium orange
    • 1 1/2 c. blanched almond slivers, lightly toasted OR
    • 1 1/2 c. lightly toasted pine nuts
    Pepper Bacon Pecan Variation
    • 4-6 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled (generous 1/2 c.)
    • 1/2 c. finely chopped pecans, lightly toasted
    • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    Cacao Nib Variation
    • 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
    • 1 c. cacoa nibs (available at Whole Foods and other speciality food stores)
    Decide which variation you are going to make, and get all your add in's ready before starting the brittle cooking.

    For the rosemary almond, toast the almonds and set aside. Combine the rosemary leaves, orange zest and the 1 tsp. of finishing salt, and crush together with your fingers or the back of spoon to bring out the flavor. Set that aside.  Use HALF this mixture as an add in, and use the other half to sprinkle on top when you spread out the brittle.

    For the pepper bacon pecan, stir the bacon bits, pecans, and black pepper together.

    For the cacoa nib, combine the espresso powder with the baking soda and kosher salt, and set aside.

    Have everything else (soda, salt, butter), measured out and near the stove.

    Take out a large rimmed baking sheet, and spread a thin layer of softened butter all over it. Place the prepared sheet into the oven with the heat on low (like 200), so it is warm. This will help your brittle spread when you pour it out. Also butter a spatula, and set that aside too.

    All this prep is helpful because once the brittle is ready you have very little time to get your ingredients mixed in and less than a minute to get it out of the pot and onto your pan before it hardens.

    On to the brittle.

    Place sugar, water and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Stir well to combine. You can stir from time to time until the mixture comes to a boil, then leave it alone but keep an eye on it. If you have a candy thermometer, use it, but don't worry if you don't.

    Cook undisturbed until the mixture begins to turn golden brown (about 280-300 degrees on your thermometer). At this point, you can swirl the pan to help it cook evenly. Keep going until the mixture is a deep caramel color (about 325 degrees on your thermometer). Color is the key! This should take about 10-15 minutes all together, depending on your pan and your stove.

    Remove from the heat, and immediately stir in the butter, soda, salt and other mix-ins with a heat-proof spoon or spatula. The mixture may bubble up, so be careful! Stir vigorously for 20-30 seconds, then pour out onto prepared sheet pan. Use the buttered spatula to help spread it evenly out to the edges.  Sprinkle with the finishing salt (or, for the Rosemary Almond variation, the rosemary/orange/salt mixture) while the brittle is still warm.

    Allow to cool completely. Turn the pan upside down, and press gently in the middle. The brittle should pop right out.

     Break into pieces and enjoy!

    * Making the one for next year is one of the 7,000 things on my December to-do list.
    ** Being a bit poetic here. My friends have blankets of many colors.
    *** Sitting on the 405 in traffic going home from Venice, stewing about the 6,999 things left on my list after I crossed off, "Donate something to the Depressed Cake Shop"? Not so much.

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