Over the years, peanut brittle has become my signature holiday offering. Unlike the childhood Christmas cookies I turned into year ‘round treats, I only make brittle during the holidays. I will occasionally do some preliminary batches in the fall, but most of it is made in the few weeks and days leading up to Christmas.
The recipe belonged to my dad’s grandmother and has been passed down to a number of family members.
Every batch I’ve ever made, except the first one, has been successful. I mention this only because it is apparently a real roll-of-the-dice for many of my other family members who attempt it each year. Why? They refuse to use a candy thermometer.
Grandma Golden’s recipe calls for cooking the candy until it “strings” (this is how you know it’s time to add baking soda, the ingredient that triggers a chemical reaction in the mixture, creating airy pockets in the candy when it hardens — critical for brittle). Clearly, figuring out when candy syrup has begun to string can be tricky.
I, too, attempted to follow the recipe as originally written the first time I made it. It was a failure.
Intent on turning out a successful batch, I researched other peanut brittle recipes, finally determining that 300 degrees on a candy thermometer represents the precise moment the baking soda should be added. With this minor, but crucial, alteration to the recipe I’ve cooked batch after batch of perfect candy ever since. (But I am obsessive about following the instructions below exactly as they appear – I never deviate.)
Adapted from Grandma Golden’s recipe (Mattie Roseman Golden)
1 cup sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
2 cups raw peanuts (I like to use Spanish)
1 rounded teaspoon baking soda
Coat large baking pan with butter, set aside.
Using a cast iron skillet, turn heat no higher than medium (maybe slightly under). Put syrup in skillet first and let it get hot. Add sugar after syrup is hot, stir to mix. Wait until mixture bubbles; add peanuts.
Stir with a wooden spoon continuously (I use a figure-8 pattern), scraping the sides often. As peanuts begin to brown (they may also pop), check temperature frequently with a candy thermometer. (You will also begin to smell the peanuts roasting.)
Remove from heat once thermometer reads 300 degrees; quickly stir in baking soda, stirring vigorously and scraping sides of skillet to completely incorporate (mixture will foam up).
Immediately pour into buttered pan, scraping skillet with spoon. Do not spread. Once mixture has completely cooled, break into pieces. Store in an air-tight container between layers of waxed paper.