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[Eds: This post is brought to you by Deb in her debut blog. See her bio in our Guest Bloggers section!]
The first time I made buttercrunch it was by accident. I was 12 years old and trying to make chewy toffee. Have you ever tried to make Yorkshire pudding? Or a soufflé? In all three cases the aspiring chef faces trials by fire such as split-second timing and crucial temperature measurement, and I was not up to the task.
I tried twice – once I got buttercrunch; the other an interesting white crystalline formation that bonded with my mother’s pot so firmly that we had to throw the whole misshapen tragedy away. Deterred, I eschewed confectionery creation (confecting?), and chewed bought toffee instead.
The Persians have it firmly figured out, you know. A delightfully generous neighbour of mine makes a buttercrunch-like sweet from Iran called Sohan. A pistachio brittle traditionally made in the holy city of Qom – Sohan was, in my opinion, the most delicious food in existence. Until recently…
I came across the real thing this Christmas at Vancouver’s Circlecraft craft market, where a company called Milsean was handing out buttercrunch samples. I was instantly hooked. It’s just plain irresponsible giving out stuff that delicious. With limited time and money, I couldn’t stand there eating freebies for hours, nor would they have let me, damn temptresses. And giving them every last cent I had would have rendered me Scrooge-like to my loved ones, gift-wise. So I bought a party pack and left before they cut me off.
My conclusion? It’s not crunch; it’s crack. Consider yourself warned… I’m not selling it, and I take no responsibility for what may happen if you read this post.
There are two things you need for making buttercrunch that you may not have handy – a candy thermometer, and, if you like a little savoury with your sweet, some of that lovely French sea salt, Fleur de Sel. If you don’t have the thermometer (I don’t!), there is a more folksy – read dangerous – way to tell if your candy is ready: the cold water test. This is way fun and kind of like a science experiment but with the promise of something yummy tasting at the end of it to cheer you up while the third degree burns heal. If you choose this method, the syrup needs to get to what they call “hard crack” stage, which means it hardens instantly into brittle threads when dropped into cold water.
Most buttercrunch recipes seem to call for corn syrup, but as that’s synonymous with Twinkies where I come from (no doubt there are many readers with great corn syrup recipes that crush this POV!) I chose a recipe on a Paris-based food blog by David Lebowitz that solves the problem European-style:
2 cups (8 ounces, 225 g) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons water1/2 cup (1 stick, 115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
a nice, big pinch of salt
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 g) packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips
Fleur de sel
Call me crazy but I don’t want the chocolate on it – I just like the butter and the crunch, thank you very much (I know, I know – I can hear the shrieks of shock and protest echoing around cyberspace already). So I left that bit out of the instructions below when I made it.
- Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil.
- Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) on the baking sheet.
- In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.
- Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
- Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it.)
- Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer.
- If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur de sel. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.
- Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container, for up to ten days.
This is David’s:
Yeah well… Either way – yummmmm!!! Thirty-two years after my first accidental encounter with buttercrunch, I’m making it on purpose. Now why didn’t I think of that before? Enjoy!