Paul and I approach desserts very differently. Paul is the give-me-a-challenge-dessert-maker. His enjoyment of the dessert making process appears to be directly correlated with the hours of prep and level of complication. Full disclosure, this is a great food type to be married to, all I have to do is casually mention a complicated dessert, note that it sounds amazing and nonchalantly question both Paul's ability and willingness to reproduce it. Then I settle in for a long wait, a complicated confectionery process (often involving candy thermometers and scales), and a stunning end result.
Spicy Maple Hazelnut Brittle was inspired by the a jar of maple syrup and bag of hazelnuts I found during our house packing and was loath to discard. While the recipe involves some tricky chemistry and the use of a candy thermometer, the result is spectacular: a crunchy sweet and spicy maple brittle loaded with tons of perfectly toasted (almost smokey) hazelnuts. A perfect winter treat!
Yield: two sheet pans of brittle
- 4 cups maple syrup (the darker color/grade the better)
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1 1/4 pounds hazelnuts (skins do not need to be removed)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (optional, can also substitute with chipotle for a smokey alternative)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- Prepare two rimmed baking sheets with silicone baking sheets, a thin coating of butter, or lightly buttered tin foil. Set aside.
- In a large thick-bottomed pot, combine maple syrup and corn syrup. Turn heat to medium-hight, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil until the temperature reaches 238 degrees on your candy thermometer. Watch closely, and turn down the heat to avoid a boil-over if necessary.
- When the temperature reaches 238 degrees, add the hazelnuts, and continuing boiling, stirring constantly. Boil until the temperature reaches 311 degrees. Keep stirring constantly to avoid burning. Watch the temperature closely, noting that as the water evaporates from the mixture, the temperature will climb faster and faster.
- When the temperature reaches 311 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, ancho (if using), and vanilla.
- For this next step it is critical that you move quickly. As soon as you add the baking soda the mixture will turn opaque, expand, and begin to harden. This gives the brittle its light crunchy texture. Add the baking soda, stir quickly to fully incorporate, and spread the mixture in a thin layer across the two sheet pans, disturbing as little as possible once it is poured and pouring as quickly as possible to ensure an even thickness. If the mixture begins to harden before it is spread evenly, you can manually spread it, but your window is small.
- Allow the brittle to cool completely (about 1 hour) before breaking into pieces and serving. Keeps well for about a week when sealed in an air-tight container.