Luscious fats combined with the seething heat of local honey and coconut sugar become the nut-studded hard-crack confection called brittle. This wholesome brittle is crammed with crunchy, toasty-nut goodness, sweetened with equal amounts coconut palm sugar and honey, and enriched with your choice of coconut or dairy to round out the flavors. This recipe is also fun, in my opinion, because I totally become immersed in the process of watching chemical reactions take place within the sugars and then the exciting color-changing froth from adding baking soda. (The baking soda creates air pockets in the hardened brittle making for a more delicate crunch.)
After perusing plenty of honey-themed cookbooks and desserts, this recipe is the natural connection to the realization that honey can be as versatile as refined sugar in the holiday food arena. So, many burnt batches of brittle later, I have come through with a more thorough understanding of candy-making. I love that honey can substitute for the oft-used corn syrup and that coconut palm sugar can caramelize so beautifully. Both of these ingredients have more depth of flavor than your typical white sugar and the subtle fruitiness I find in the coconut sugar complements nuts wonderfully. Make this brittle appropriate to a dairy-free lifestyle by using the coconut options instead of the cream and butter. Both offer lovely, but different, flavor inflections.
While the difference between a teeth-mobilizing caramel and a shatter-y brittle are a matter of degrees, they are crucial ones. I found my candy thermometer was indispensable but also found that in order to get a correct reading, I had to tilt the pan of steaming candy lava so that the stick end was more completely coated and then the temperature would shoot right up to the current temperature. Feel free to substitute almond and almond extract for the pecans and vanilla extract. I also played around with the proportions of coconut sugar to honey and if you find yourself short of one ingredient substitute enough of the other to make up the difference. Amounts of cream and butter are also pretty flexible but the one absolute is reaching but not exceeding the temperatures.
Recently, I had so much fun experimenting with brittles–actually some were caramels, like I said, I was still experimenting–that I brought 5 variations over to my parents. They passed my hard-core health advocate father’s stringent criteria for a “healthy dessert” and his taste tests. I had to go shopping for fresh nuts, as I hadn’t a single one left in my house. And that meant, another couple rounds of brittle-making, of course!
- ¾ cup coconut palm sugar
- ¾ cup honey
- ½ cup water
- 1½ cups pecans
- ¼ cup heavy cream or coconut cream
- ¼ cup butter or coconut oil
- 1½ tsp. coarse salt
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- Toast the pecans at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and grease with butter or coconut oil.
- Meanwhile mix the coconut sugar, honey, and water in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, preferably with straight sides and small enough so the syrup will be able to coat the thermometer ⅓-1/2 way up.
- Heat the syrup mixture without stirring (you can swirl the pan occasionally or brush down the sides with a wet brush) until it reaches 240 degrees. This takes about 15 minutes or less.
- Add the butter/oil and cream/coconut cream and bring temperature up to 295 degrees.
- Working quickly, add toasted nuts, vanilla, 1 tsp. salt, and baking soda. (The mixture will "fluff" up and turn lighter in color.) Pour onto prepared sheet, spread, and allow to cool for about an hour before breaking into pieces. Sprinkle with the extra ½ tsp. salt.
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