I adore Charles Schulz’s "Peanuts" comic strip, and in preparation for the upcoming arrival of The Great Pumpkin, I’ve added a trendy twist to an old-fashioned favorite with my Pumpkin Spice Brittle.
To give this brittle a seasonal flair, I use pumpkin seeds instead of peanuts, and a blend of fragrant fall spices including cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Shelled pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are best for this recipe. I buy my pepitas at the grocery store as I find shelling seeds freshly harvested from a pumpkin a nearly impossible task. Pepitas are mostly green in color, which adds a lovely, autumnal complement to the golden-brown brittle, and you can use either raw or roasted and salted pepitas for this recipe.
Aside from the pumpkin seeds, this recipe uses staple ingredients that you likely have in your pantry: sugar, corn syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, butter and vanilla extract.
Candymaking is a process of wait and watch, followed by quick action, and I highly recommend having all your equipment out and ingredients measured before you begin. Making brittle is easy, and your experience will be greatly enhanced with the use of a candy or deep-fry thermometer.
Unless you are skilled in the various temperature stages of candymaking, soft crack versus hard crack, using a thermometer removes any guesswork from the process and helps ensure a good result.
For this recipe, boil the sugar, corn syrup and water over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Next, place the thermometer into the liquid and continue cooking, without stirring, until it reaches a temperature of 280 degrees, the soft crack stage.
Without a thermometer, my mother and grandmother could identify this stage by dropping a small amount of the mixture into very cold water and watching to see if it separated into threads that are hard, but not brittle. I have never mastered this technique, and thanks to my trusty old thermometer, I never need to.
Once the soft crack stage has been achieved, the pepitas are added to the hot liquid, which then continues to cook until it reaches 300 degrees, or hard crack stage. For a visual at this stage, a small amount of mixture dropped into cold water will separate into threads that are hard and brittle. Again, unless you’re more intrepid than I, investing in a candy thermometer will spare you from ruining a good batch of brittle.
Once the mixture has reached 300 degrees, the wait-and-watch stage is over and it’s time for the quick action to ensue. The pan is removed from the burner and the remaining ingredients are quickly stirred in until fully incorporated, then the hot mixture is poured onto a greased baking sheet. To help the brittle spread evenly into the pan, gently lift and tilt the pan rather than spreading it with a tool, which can roughen the surface.
Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the brittle cool completely and then use your hands to break it into pieces. With its sweet and spicy fall flavors and wonderfully crunchy texture, this Pumpkin Spice Brittle is the perfect fall candy. And maybe, just maybe, tempting enough to finally lure the Great Pumpkin into the patch this year.
Pumpkin Spice Brittle
Makes: 2+ pounds
3 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 ½ cups shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), raw or roasted and salted
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt (omit is using salted pumpkin seeds)
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grease a baking sheet (I use a half-sheet pan) with cooking spray, oil or butter; set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup and water until combined. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Continue cooking without stirring until the temperature reaches 280 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft crack stage).
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; set aside. Measure out the butter and vanilla so that they are ready to use when needed.
When the sugar mixture has reached 280 degrees, gradually stir in the pumpkin seeds so that the mixture continues to boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, and watching closely until the temperature reaches 300 degrees (hard crack stage).
Remove the pan from the burner and immediately add the baking soda mixture, butter and vanilla and stir in quickly until incorporated. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet. Carefully lift and tilt the pan to spread the brittle into the corners as much as possible.
Place pan on a wire rack to cool. When completely cool to the touch, break the brittle into pieces and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.