My Dad was a peanut brittle fiend. He didn’t have it that often (does anyone have peanut brittle that often?), but whenever he got a box as a gift or present, he would savor it. I feel that peanut brittle would have been one of those things we would get him for Father’s Day or his birthday. It was either that or some English Leather. I can still picture him with the box of peanut brittle sitting in his easy chair watching television. It’s a very distinct box that I found immediately online when I did an image search for “peanut brittle brands.” Gold color to the box, picture of the brittle across the front – that was it. It was a brand called Sophie Mae and apparently they still make it today, although the brand was sold to another candy company (Atkinson’s who are famous for their Chick-o-Stick and Peanut Butter Bar candies). I can see my Dad reaching into the box and pulling out a big chunk, then I can hear the crunch as he chomped away on his sweet treat. The box would last him a couple of days and he would keep it by the side of his chair until it was gone. I remember trying some and liking it, but it was definitely billed to us as an adult candy and not for kids, so we didn’t have all that much of it. That really meant they just didn’t want to waste it on us kids. I understand that.
I thought about looking for some Sophie Mae Peanut Brittle in local stores. I imagine it would be near the box candy section of the drug store. But it also seemed kind of a specialty item. I had my doubts if I could really find it and when it came down to it, I never looked. I decided to look for recipes online instead. There’s a bunch of them and they are all pretty much the same. Then I found one that the folks at King Arthur Flour posted on their blog. They usually have some good recipes there and even better, they give you great instructions. What ultimately pulled me in to their recipe was the the headline of the blog entry:
THE BEST NUT BRITTLE YOU’LL EVER MAKE: EASY, DELICIOUS, AND DONE IN UNDER 30 MINUTES.
Now I was definitely interested. I was unsure about the whole microwave thing, but they addressed that in the second paragraph saying they understood my skepticism, but to trust them. I do trust them, so I figured I’d give it a go. I was looking for an easy recipe so I wouldn’t have to spend that long in the kitchen, so this was perfect. I ran up the street to pick up some salted nuts, then came home. I had everything else I needed there.
A brittle is really just a hard candy confection that is embedded with nuts and then broken into pieces. I assume the name comes from the fact that it is indeed kind of brittle. One slight tap and it breaks off. There’s a bizarre folklore about the invention of peanut brittle that involves a West Virginian bloke by the name of Tony Beaver who was the cousin of Paul Bunyan. In the tale, the local river was flooding the town, so Tony got all the townspeople to shell all their peanuts and to toss them in the river (apparently they have a lot of peanuts). Then he got the logging crew in town to break open all their barrels of molasses into the river. The two combined creating a barrier that stopped the flooding. When the waters receded and it was time for the wall to come down, Tony Beaver tasted a piece of the wall (because why wouldn’t you) and realized it was pretty tasty. He took his giant axe and knocked the wall down giving all the townspeople a “dam” good treat and the world its first peanut brittle.* West Virginia doesn’t help their reputation with these kind of tales.
I decided that I would make the brittle in my kitchen and not dam up the Sakonnet, so this recipe was perfect. You start with sugar and corn syrup and mix it up. Then you microwave it for five minutes. Add in some butter and a bunch of peanuts, stir it up and throw it back in the microwave for a few minutes. When it turns that beautiful caramel color, you pull it out, add in some baking powder and vanilla, then pour it out onto a sheet pan to let it cool. It took me about ten minutes to make and about an hour to cool completely. Not too shabby.
When it was cooled, I removed it from the pan. I had sprayed the pan with cooking spray so it actually came off without struggle which I was happy about. Then all I had to do was break it into pieces. It was that easy. Then I tried some. The brittle was crunchy and sweet – perfect consistency too. Not grainy. The nuts were in every bite too. This could be some of my best work yet. Sweet and salty, and dare I say as good as Sophie Mae’s. A treat to savor, just like my Dad used to.
Here’s the recipe because it’s worth sharing and it’s worth reading the blog about it too: Microwaved Nut Brittle. Cheers to Mrs. B, the originator of the recipe (read the blog).
I wish I could send a box of this to my Dad. He’d be excited for it. He’d be proud that I could make my own, perhaps even in disbelief, but would have a giant smile of gratitude on his face no matter what. He’d savor this batch too. Keep it by his easy chair and munch on it while he watched TV. He’d give my Mom some too. He’s been gone for almost 20 years now but I still think of him all the time. I’ve thought of him a lot while writing this blog. He’s a big part of the memories I’ve shared here and it’s been nice to visit with him while I write about random food from my past. I can almost see him reading the blog too, trying to figure out how to use an iPad, laughing at the jokes I slide in here, and talking it up too his pals. He’d probably tell me he went to school with Tony Beaver. I’m going to enjoy this peanut brittle as a small tribute to my Dad. Yeah, this one was kind of special.
Next Up: National Chocolate Cake Day.
*This tale is from the Legend of Tony Beaver