Saturday, October 23, 2010

About Brittle

I'm not an avid candy maker by any means, but I like to dabble. Last year for the holidays, I went crazy making all sorts of gift basket goodies, including a couple varieties of candies. Luckily most of them went well (thanks to the wonderful candy thermometer by boyfriend's family gave me- thanks!), but I preferred some over others. I was most intrigued by brittle. Last year I had found a recipe for pumpkin seed brittle that had a cinnamon in it, and it was pretty amazing, and also relatively consistent (unlike my taffy which on one attempt to make was as hard as a candy cane).

I'm just starting to plan out what I'm going to make for gift baskets this year, and brittle is definitely on the list. I searched online for a variety of recipes and inspirations, but ended up making 3 variations on one recipe. I'm calling it my "brittle base".

In medium saucepan, over medium heat, stir together:
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

until the sugar has dissolved. When it starts to boil, add:
  • 1/2 cup butter

Let it keep boiling until your candy thermometer reaches 230˚ F, then start to stir it constantly until it reaches 280˚ (somewhere around 10 minutes).

At this point, you can add in your key ingredient, usually nuts + (get creative) (ideas below).
Stir constantly until it reaches 300˚. Move quickly and have your ingredients ready because this sugar mixture can burn in the blink of an eye.

Remove from heat and stir in:
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda (and whatever spice or flavoring you want)

Pour onto a greased or parchmented baking sheet or jelly roll pan and spread until fairly even. I learned a neat trick where you can put a layer of parchment over the brittle and use a rolling pin to lay it flat. The thickness of whatever nut mix you used will help keep it from getting too thin.

Let it cool, then break into pieces and store in an air tight container for a couple days. Be careful of how much moisture is in your home, too. The brittle can get a layer of stickiness on it if you don't have dry enough conditions. Weather can have a big effect on this, so if you can do it, try and make you candies on a non-rainy day.

Ok, so, here are the 3 variations I made today:

  1. 1-1/2 cups chopped cashews (simple)
  2. 1-1/2 cups pecans, 1 tbs maple extract (not the real stuff I'm afraid), 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp chipotle powder (a great flavor combo with a subtle kick)
  3. 1 cup pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cup cocoa nibs (I used Askinoosie), dash of cayenne pepper
I usually use pre-roasted and salted nuts, but you can always roast your own.

Yay for brittle!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes

My favorite time of year: Pumpkin season! Mostly because it means I can bust out this recipe again, but also because everywhere I go I can order some pumpkin flavored something or other. Thai pumpkin curry is high on my list of tasty treats I look forward to.

But I digress. We're here for cupcakes, and I intend to fulfill my baker's duty by sharing this beloved recipe with you. I confess, I've already sort of posted this once before, in one of its many versatile forms.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350˚
Line 2 cupcakes tins (approx. 24 cupcakes)

Whisk together dry ingredients in large bowl and make a well in the center:
3-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves

Mix together liquid ingredients in a medium sized bowl:
3 cups sugar
¾ cup oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
2 cups pumpkin puree

Add liquid ingredients to dry and whisk together until combined. Scoop out 1/4 cups at a time into prepared baking tins. Bake 20 minutes.

Once cooled, top with cream cheese frosting:

1 8 oz bar cream cheese
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

Whip together until smooth. Add:
~3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip on hight until fluffy. Pipe on to cupcakes.

This is always a crowd pleaser, and one of the easier cupcake recipes around (probably because it's a muffin recipe in a cream cheese frosting disguise). It always helps to have fresh spices on hand though; it can make such a difference in flavor.