Christmas is officially (almost) upon us, and I frankly couldn’t be more stressed.
I’m going to take a second here to be totally honest with you. I hope you can handle it.
Number one, I work in retail.
The “most wonderful time of the year” also translates to the most hectic and agonizing time of the year to anyone who works in the service industry. Something about buying gifts to spread all that holiday happiness and joy really brings out the worst in people.
Beyond that, I’ve always been a little bit stressed by the holidays. The pressure to buy gifts for dozens of people gives me serious anxiety. Trying to make sure all the gifts fit the recipients in a truly thoughtful way, and that nothing should appear cheap or hasty, is just too much for me. Oddly enough, I also don’t really enjoy receiving gifts. I guess that’s kind of weird, but I don’t really need anything and something about giving people lists feel really disingenuous and unnatural to me. I’m also very particular and picky and often feel like I would rather just buy things for myself.
I’m sure a lot of you are thinking I’m an awful scrooge and just a terrible human being in general, but I promise you that I’m not! It’s not that I hate the holidays, it’s just that there are a few aspects of this season that really rub me the wrong way. If Christmas was more about spending time and less about spending money, I’d like it so much more. As much as I resent the conspicuous consumption, I promise that there are actually are tons of aspects of Christmas that I really love!
Any reason to spend real quality time with friends and family is great in my book, and I honestly really love the whole ritual of getting a tree and decorating the house and hanging stockings and all that. I also love all the food and sweets. Obviously.
This time of year my grandmother would always have trays and trays of cookies and candies and snacks out for grazing, and one thing I could never resist was the peanut brittle. There’s just something about that caramel-y nutty crunchy salty sweet thing that really does it for me. It may not be true for most people, but peanut brittle (or any nut brittle for that matter) will always make me think of Christmas.
I’d never made my own brittle before so I thought it would be fun to try something new this holiday season. Homemade gifts, and food gifts especially, have always felt so much more honest and heartfelt and true to me than any things you can buy in a store. After a test batch for myself, I decided that I liked my brittle so much that I would make a few extra batches to give out as a Christmas treats to our favorite businesses in the area where I work.
The Williamsburg neighborhood (where Whisk is based) is growing into a major shopping district, but it’s historically been a small underdog neighborhood and the main shopping area is made up mostly of small independent shops. A lot of the shops and restaurants work really closely together, and this time of year we often exchange little treats and food gifts to help everyone through this hectic season.
The brittle was a huge hit, and it was really nice to get out of the store for a bit and see the smiles on everyone’s faces when I dropped off their cute little paper boxes wrapped up with bakers twine.
This recipe is a really interesting twist on traditional peanut brittle. The toasted walnuts have a special kind of earthy bitterness that complements the sweetness of the candy really beautifully. Real maple syrup is a natural pairing with walnuts, and the addition of just a touch of molasses gives just a bit more depth and adds a rich caramel-iness. Adding a sprinkle of crunchy minerally fleur de sel or maldon sea salt elevates the whole experience with an adult elegance. This stuff is perfect.
It’s actually not difficult to make either, though you will need a candy thermometer since the addition of molasses makes it difficult to tell by color which stage the cooked sugar has reached. You’ll also want to use a much bigger pot than you think, because the sugar boils and bubbles up a lot!
Happy Holidays y’all!
Salted Maple and Molasses Walnut Brittle
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup (real) maple syrup
3 tablespoons unsulphered molasses
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 ounces chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread walnuts out in an even layer and toast for about 10 minutes or until they smell like heaven. Don’t leave them in too long or they could burn and become very bitter.
Combine sugar, water, butter, maple syrup, molasses, and corn syrup in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is thick with tight bubbles and registers 300° on a candy thermometer, about 10 or 15 minutes. Since the syrup and molasses give the mixture a dark color, it’s hard to tell if it’s reached the hard crack stage from color. I’d highly recommend the use of a candy thermometer.
Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda and cinnamon. Be careful, the mixture will bubble up. Stir in the walnuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto a large rimmed buttered baking sheet. Using the back of a silicone spatula or spoon (oil it lightly if it sticks), spread the brittle into a thin, even layer. Work fast. Letting the candy cool too much before spreading can affect the texture. Immediately sprinkle with salt. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break the brittle into large shards.