Homemade hazelnut brittle is a quick and easy treat that makes a great gift, perfect snack, or sweet topping.
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What is brittle?
Brittle is a type of candy. It is basically melted, caramelized sugar that has been heated to the hard crack stage, approximately 305 to 310 degrees Fahrenheit and aerated with baking soda. Caramelized sugar is acidic, when you add baking soda it reacts and produces gas creating a bubbly mixture that is then poured over nuts and spread out to cool.
As it cools, it hardens and becomes shiny. Once it has completely cooled, it is broken into smaller pieces. It can be eaten as is, added to other recipes or used as a topping for ice cream or creme brulee.
What’s the difference between brittle and praline?
Brittle is cooked to the hard crack stage while pralines are normally only taken up to the soft-ball stage. Pralines have a fudge-like or chewy texture, while brittle is hard and crunchy.
For more information about the different sugar stages of candy making, check out this illustrated guide from Craftsy. The guide also provides information about how to test the temperature of sugar without a thermometer using just a glass of ice water.
Hazelnuts: You can purchase already roasted and chopped hazelnuts or purchase whole hazelnuts and roast them yourself. The best price I have found is buying whole unroasted hazelnuts from the bulk bin at Fresh Thyme.
White Granulated Sugar: Sugar is caramelized and cooked until the hard crack stage, approximately 305 to 310 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that once the sugar cools it will solidify and snap into pieces easily. It should not be sticky or bendy.
Light Corn Syrup: Corn syrup helps to prevent the sugar from crystallizing as it melts.
If you don’t have corn syrup, you can substitute an equal amount of honey, light molasses, agave, or brown rice syrup. Keep in mind that making a substitution will give the brittle a slightly different taste and texture.
Water: Water is used to dissolve the sugar.
Unsalted Butter: Butter helps to tenderize the candy and adds its own rich flavor. When baking I prefer to use unsalted butter so that I can control the amount of salt that is used.
Baking Soda: The addition of baking soda creates millions of microscopic bubbles in the candy. These bubbles make the caramelized sugar “brittle” so that it breaks when you bite it rather than being so hard you must suck on it like toffee or a lollipop.
Be prepared once the baking soda has been added the syrup will begin to foam, often reaching two to three times its original volume.
Be sure to remove the the caramelized sugar from the heat before adding the baking soda. Other wise it will foam up and overflow from the saucepan.
Vanilla: For the best flavor use pure vanilla extract not imitation vanilla.
Flaky Sea Salt: Before it hardens completely, I like to top my brittle with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt which provides a nice contrast to the sweet brittle. Maldon sea salt is one of the best.
Thermometer: A thermometer is the easiest way to be sure you have heated the sugar to the correct temperature. You can purchase a candy thermometer that clips to the side of your saucepan or use an instant-read thermometer like the Thermopen from Thermoworks. The Thermopen is handy because it can also be used to check the temperature of baked goods and meat.
Large Heavy Bottomed Sauce Pan: A heavy-bottomed saucepan evenly distributes the heat reducing the likelihood that portions of the sugar will burn. I prefer to use a light-colored saucepan which allows me to easily monitor the color of the sugar. You can also use an enameled dutch oven.
Pastry Brush: A pastry brush is useful to brush any stray sugar crystals from the sides of the saucepan. I am partial to silicone pastry brushes because I don’t have to worry about leaving stray bristles behind.
Baking Sheet: After heating the sugar it is poured onto a baking sheet to cool.
Parchment Paper: Parchment paper is great for lining your baking sheet ensuring that the brittle does not stick and makes clean up really easy. I like these pre-cut parchment paper sheets that are available from Amazon.
Pam: Pam is the easiest way I have found to quickly grease the parchment paper.
Rubber Spatula: A rubber spatula is a great tool for spreading the brittle into an even layer. Spray with cooking spray to keep the brittle from sticking to it. This one is my favorite. It is comfortable to hold and isn’t too floppy.
How to toast hazelnuts
Toasting hazelnuts intensifies their flavor. To toast hazelnuts:
- Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the topmost position.
- Place the hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast for 15 to 20 minutes until fragrant, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning.
How to peel hazelnuts
Toasting the hazelnuts also makes them easier to peel. To peel toasted hazelnuts:
- Transfer toasted hazelnuts to a clean dishtowel. Rub and roll them around between your hands to remove the skins.
- Remove the hazelnuts from the dishtowel and roughly chop. I like a variety of sized pieces.
How to make brittle
Once the hazelnuts have been toasted and peeled, you are ready to make the brittle.
Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or oiled parchment paper.
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Attach your candy thermometer to the edge of the saucepan, and make sure it is submerged in the liquid, but not touching the bottom of the pot.
Heat the sugar mixture over medium-low heat. If you see sugar clinging to the sides of the pan, use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides of the pan. DO NOT STIR the sugar mixture. You may swirl the pan gently about halfway through the cooking time to incorporate any uncooked sugar.
Simmer without stirring until the caramel is 305 degrees Farenheight and deep amber in color. Roughly 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the hazelnuts, butter, baking soda, and vanilla. When the baking soda is added the syrup will begin to foam, often reaching two to three times its original volume. Stir until all of the hazelnuts are evenly coated with the syrup.
Pour the hazelnut mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Use an oiled rubber spatula to spread the mixture into an even layer about 1/2 inch thick.
Sprinkle with sea salt and allow the brittle to cool for at least 30 minutes.
Once the brittle has hardened break it into pieces.
Frequently asked questions
Brittle can turn out chewy if it wasn’t heated to a high enough temperature. Sugar for brittle needs to be heated to the hard crack stage or between 305 and 310 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your brittle was hard when you first made it but then became chewy, moisture is most likely the cause. High humidity can cause brittle to soften.
After pouring the sugar onto the baking sheet it should cool and fully harden in 20-30 minutes. Allow the brittle to cool at room temperature. Do not refrigerate brittle. The moisture in the refrigerator could keep it from fully hardening.
Because brittle is a hard candy moisture is the enemy. Do not store brittle in the refrigerator. It is best stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 6-8 weeks. If you are worried about the brittle sticking together you can separate each layer with a piece of parchment paper.
Brittle can also be frozen. Freeze brittle in an airtight container for up to three months.
Sugar quickly dissolves in boiling water. The easiest way to clean your pan is to boil some water in it. I will also hold any utensils I used in the boiling water until the sticky sugar has dissolved.
Stella Parks writes about an interesting technique on Serious Eats. In the article, she suggests boiling other ingredients like heavy cream or coffee in the pan to dissolve the sugar and using that liquid as the base for another recipe.
Try substituting different types of nuts. Peanuts are a popular choice but cashews, macadamias, walnuts, and almonds will work well too.
After the brittle has hardened try drizzling it with some melted chocolate for an extra special treat.
- Prep your baking sheet and ingredients before you begin caramelizing the sugar. Once the sugar begins to caramelize the process moves quickly.
- Don’t stir the sugar. Stirring the sugar will encourage sugar crystallization which will make your brittle grainy.
- Don’t wander away from the sugar while it is caramelizing. It will go from the perfect shade of brown to burned quickly.
- Melted sugar is extremely hot! In fact, sugar has a higher boiling point than water. Don’t touch the melted sugar and be careful to not drop any on your skin. I usually wear oven mitts when pouring the melted sugar onto the baking pan. Don’t use your fingers to taste or stop drips.
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