Jessica B. Harris' Peanut Brittle
After more than 35 years of writing cookbooks, I have to make a culinary confession: I do not bake. No punching down dough or rolling out cookies or delicately fluting the edges of piecrusts for me. I'm not really a dessert eater, so my sweet tooth runs to candy. Cooks make what they like to eat, and while other people may have fond memories of Christmas gingerbread men and Easter rolls, my remembrances are of blocks of fudge and walnut-topped fondant creams.
One recipe, though, has always been my standby: a super quick peanut brittle. I'm not really sure where I got it, probably from my mother, but for decades it has been my go-to. Crumble a bit of it over some store-bought ice cream, and voilà—something special to end a meal. Package some up in a ribbon-tied box, and it's the perfect hostess gift. And if the gummy bears have run out, this candy made of Southern staples is as close as the pantry. I have made the brittle with different types of nuts, but the classic peanut just tastes best to me.
This seems to be a Southern creation, as peanuts have long been common here. They were even the subject of the popular Confederate Civil War song "Eating Goober Peas." Little did those singing know that it had an African connection. Goober (a Southern term for this legume) comes from the Lingala or Kongo word nguba, meaning "peanut." When the song was published in 1866, the authors were listed as P. Nutt and A. Pindar, obviously an inside joke. (Pindar is from the word mpinda, which is another Kongo term for peanut.)
When the Civil War acquainted the North with this food, its popularity soon spread around the country along with that of peanut brittle. Recipes for the candy made with corn syrup and these nuts began appearing in American cookbooks starting in the late 19th century.
My version is a very simple one, and it doesn't require cream of tartar, corn syrup, or even a candy thermometer—just butter, peanuts, sugar, a pinch of baking soda, and a cast-iron skillet.
Peanut Brittle Pointers
Pay Attention: Hot sugar is like lava, so care must be taken at all times. This is a recipe that demands your full attention while it cooks, so be sure to have all the necessary tools and ingredients in place before you begin to heat the sugar.
Toast the Nuts: I prefer to make my brittle with dark-roasted peanuts. I toast them by stirring them around for a few minutes in a hot skillet.
Try a Marble Slab: I prepare candies often enough that I purchased a confectioner’s marble slab. Although it isn’t necessary, it stays cold, so the candy cools quicker. The slabs are often pricey, but a couple of 12- x 12-inch marble floor tiles will also work well.