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Indian Cashew and Pistachio Nut Brittle

17 Dec

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If you’ve never attempted to make candy before, I think I’ve got the perfect recipe to get you started. I know, I know—you don’t have a candy thermometer, you’re afraid of burning things (including yourself), and why would anyone make candy when you can just buy candy? I get it, really I do. But I still think you should make this.

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Why? Because where else are you going to find a crisp nut brittle infused with Indian spices? A nut brittle made with pure clover honey instead of corn syrup? Or a super customized candy that contains only the nuts you want, being as though, if you’re not a cashew or pistachio fan, you can use peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pepitas, or whatever you feel like? Right here is where you’ll find it. And, as an added bonus, you don’t even need a candy thermometer to make this delicious treat happen. If you have one, by all means, bust it out. If you don’t, however, you still have no excuse to not make this candy.

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Crisp, wonderfully spiced, and absolutely jam packed with nuts, this is homemade candy at its finest. Because I like a high ratio of nuts to sweet stuff, I made this recipe specifically with that preference in mind. The sweetness of the brittle serves mainly as a lacy structure to hold the nuts together, making every bite a perfect balance of nutty and sweet. Because a lot about the recipe is customizable, you can, as mentioned previously, swap out the nuts you see here for any other nut you like. You can also swap the ginger extract for vanilla extract, the cardamom for cinnamon (or a smaller amount of cayenne pepper or chipotle powder, if you’re looking to make a sweet and spicy candy). It’s great for wrapping up and gifting to friends and family, and, if packed in an airtight container and padded against shattering, it can be shipped across the country and arrive perfectly fresh and tasty as the day it was made. Seriously, just give it a try. You don’t have to make it with gifting in mind, if that takes off any added pressure. You can make it and eat it all yourself, and if you do, I promise I won’t tell a soul.

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Last Year: Peppermint Mocha Crinkle Cookies

Indian Cashew and Pistachio Nut Brittle Recipe

As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can still make this candy. Though gauging a candy’s doneness can be accomplished by temperature, it can also be accomplished by keeping a close eye on your candy’s color and scent. I’ve added instructions below that address both temperature as well as color and scent.

Heaping ¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup raw cashews

1 cup raw pistachios

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ginger extract (if you can’t locate ginger extract in your local market, it can be ordered from a baking or spice shop, such as this one)

½ teaspoon baking soda

Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper, then set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over low heat, combine sugar, water, honey, and sea salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and, without stirring, allow the mixture to come to a boil. Boil the mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, without stirring, until the mixture reaches around 260 degrees on a candy thermometer, or, if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the mixture turns a deep amber color. When the desired temperature or color are reached, immediately stir in the nuts and stir the mixture constantly until it reaches a temperature of 310 degrees or, if you don’t have a candy thermometer, when the mixture turns a deep golden shade of reddish brown and you can smell the nuts toasting and the sugar becoming deeply caramelized.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the butter, cardamom, and ginger extract until evenly incorporated. Add the baking soda (the mixture will bubble and foam for a bit, then reside) and stir until combined. Quickly pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, pouring it around as evenly as possible. Do not bother trying to scrap the last bits of the hot, sugary mixture from the sides of the pan. Gently push the mass of nuts around so it covers as much of the surface of the candy as possible.

Allow the candy to cool completely before breaking into bits and eating or packaging. If you want to speed up the cooling process, you an place the sheet of cooling candy in the freezer and cut your cooling time in half.

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Ginger Almond Toffee

12 Dec

It’s not tough to find a specialty chocolate shop in Portland, or in most any other city, I suppose, but it is certainly not easy to find a shop that is not only staffed by some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable chocolate fans around (sidenote: I once knew someone who worked in a chocolate shop and was allergic to chocolate, which is just absurd when you think about it, because wouldn’t you think, and hope, that a chocolate shop, selling chocolate and all, would want to hire people who could, you know, readily sample and talk honestly about  their product without breaking out in a rash?) but also offers a truly creative selection of chocolate treats.  Alma Chocolate, in Northeast Portland, is that chocolate shop.  Sure, everyone makes salted caramels nowadays, but how about habanero caramels?  Or a Thai peanut butter cup, a dream of a chocolate confection that layers your mouth with hits of lime, chili, and ginger?  How about a chevre and black pepper truffle?  Do you see what I mean?  It’s chocolate taken just a step further, from pleasingly creative to utterly inspired.

Though not their most unusual of offerings, Alma’s ginger almond toffee bark is a great example of the way their take on confections can be given a bit of a lift.  The toffee is perfectly melt-in-your-mouth, enveloping large chunks of spicy candied ginger and toasted almonds.  Most people take the timid route with this type of toffee, unfortunately, peppering it only moderately with tiny little bits of ginger, and pulverizing the almonds into an almost powdery layer that only hints at its presence.  But Alma knows better, and they know that if someone wants to eat ginger almond toffee, they want to eat ginger, and almonds, and toffee, each component standing front and center.

It might seem odd to wax rhapsodic about a chocolatier and then immediately turn around and attempt to make their product at home instead of heading out and buying something to support that chocolatier, but, when I have an affection for something, this is how I show it.  If I am truly enamored of something, I like to make it a part of my life, and a toffee of this caliber is most certainly worthy of being part of my life, and the lives of other people I know who happen to be partial to smooth chocolate, rich toffee, snappy ginger, and crisp almonds.

Ginger Almond Toffee

Inspired by Alma Chocolate

1 cup toasted whole almonds

heaping ¼ cup crystallized candied ginger

1 ¼ cups white sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons water

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon molasses

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon baking soda

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Separate the almonds into ¾ cup and ¼ cup piles.  Chop the ¾ cup pile very roughly, basically just chopping each almond roughly in half (you want these almonds to maintain a good bite).  Chop the remaining ¼ cup pile into a medium-fine dice and set aside.

Coarsely chop the heaping ¼ cup of crystallized ginger.  Line the bottom of an 8”x13” baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper, and evenly scatter the ¾ cup of almond chunks and the chopped crystallized ginger over the parchment.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the white sugar, brown sugar, water, butter, molasses, and sea salt.  Over medium heat, cook the mixture, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spoon or spatula, until it turns a rich, dark golden brown and just reaches a heat of 300 degrees.  (This process can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your stove’s burner and the heating capabilities of the saucepan you are using.)  Immediately remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the vanilla and baking soda.  The mixture will bubble up when the baking soda is added, so be sure to stir carefully but thoroughly.

Quickly pour the mixture evenly over the almonds and ginger.  When the toffee is still hot but just starting to set (about 2 minutes later), sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the surface of the toffee.  Allow the chocolate to melt from the heat of the toffee, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee.  Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup chopped almonds over the chocolate.

Allow the toffee to cool completely before breaking into pieces.  If you want to speed up the cooling process, you can place the toffee in either the refrigerator (more patience) or the freezer (less patience).

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