Monday, January 31, 2011

Sweets for the Anti Sweet

Did I ever mention that my mother is a baker? Nothing too crazy like pastries or cupcakes or even pies (although she could make the most delicious, flaky and flavorful crust while sleepwalking). Nope, just plain old cakes. Nothing special really, just those things that people shell out hundreds of dollars for to have at major special events. She's been doing it since I was little, so you could say I grew up surrounded by sugar and you'd think it would be childhood heaven but it was quite the opposite actually.
See, nothing fancy. Just some  Italian Cream wedding cakes my mom made
I vaguely remember when I liked cake, and had fun licking the french buttercream frosting off of spoons or dipping my fingers into the leftovers from a bowl of chocolate mocha filling but that faded fast. Yes, I was the kid that would have the giant birthday cookie at my parties, I think I even had a birthday flan once. No cake for me, please. And I think that just gradually blossomed to an aversion to sweets. Not completely turned off by sugar but I definitely get more excited about the appetizer course as opposed to dessert.

As a result I don't mind signing up to contribute to a work bake sale or offer to bring the sweets for the party. It's generally pretty easy because I know I won't want to eat any of it... while say the spinach dip or stuffed mushrooms, well I'd definitely be all over those before I was even out the door. So this past holiday season I decided to go all Martha Stewart and make a plethora of sugary goodies as my Christmas contribution to all parties, bake sales, etc. There were Mexican wedding cookies, pumpkin muffins, rum cupcakes... and cashew brittle*. And that was it. The sweet that I couldn't stop grabbing a piece from here and there.

To make the brittle I decided to try out this recipe I found via The Wednesday Chef, that she acquired from Karen DeMasco of Craft and Craftbar (think Tom Colicchio). It's shockingly easy but you really need good sense to make this. The time says 10 minutes total, and doesn't require a candy thermometer, but I've always gone over. You just need to watch the mixture. It'll take a while to brown, but don't take it off the heat until it looks the color of brittle, or you'll end up with a sticky, gummy concoction that's just better thrown away. But with patience and without second guessing yourself, you end up with this amazingly rich, burnt sugary and crunchy cashew brittle. 
Cashew Brittle
4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 pounds salted, roasted cashews

1. Line two baking sheets with lightly buttered parchment paper or lightly coat the sheets with cooking spray. Do not use wax paper or plastic wrap

2. Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and stir together. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel turns a medium-golden color, about 10 minutes-probably more. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and then the salt. The mixture will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, stir in the nuts, then immediately pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheets, using the back of the spoon to spread the brittle out. Allow the brittle to cool for a few minutes, then, using the sides of two forks, pull and stretch the edges of the brittle to create a thinner candy

3. Once brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-sized pieces using the back of a knife or your hands. The brittle can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to two weeks. This recipe can easily be cut in half as well

*This post is dedicated to my coworker- who reminded me today how much he loved the brittle I brought in for the holidays

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