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Brittle is a buttery, crunchy and flavorful noncrystalline candy, and unlike the other hard candies, they include butter and milk solids, and usually pieces of nuts. Their finished candy mixtures, while still hot and molten, are often spread into sheets and when cooled, broken into smaller fragments. Peanut Brittle is one of the more popular varieties. Brittle's complex flavor is a result of this caramelization process and Maillard Reactions that occur when melting sugar at high heat to make the recipes.
There are two ways of making Brittle:
One is to caramelize sugar in a pan over low heat until melted and golden brown, then add nuts. This slow heating allows for the uniform "unsaturated polymer formation" or the right crystal formation for Brittle, occurs best in a heavy cast iron skillet.
A second way is to make "foamy peanut brittle", which I prefer. The sugar syrup is cooked in a pan to the hard-crack stage, then butter is added along with a small amount of baking soda to make a tender, more porous brittle. The reaction of the baking soda with the sugar acids(to help neutralize) produces carbon dioxide gas which foams, and then they are trapped in the candy giving it a lighter texture. (Use caution that it doesn't overflow the saucepan.) Nuts are added when cooking is completed.
SARAH SAYS: Alkaline conditions (baking soda) favor browning reactions.
In either method, the cooked mixture is poured immediately so that the candy is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick; sometimes it is pulled even thinner as it begins to harden. When hard, it is cracked into pieces. Sometimes it is spread with chocolate and sprinkled with nuts and allowed to cool until the chocolate firms up and then cracked into pieces.
SARAH SAYS: Dusting the brittle with a little powdered sugar before storing helps to prevent the pieces sticking together. Store brittle in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper.