Photo: sassyradish, Flickr
Peanut brittle might remind you of something grandma kept in a jar and doled out during special visits. Crunchy, sweet and translucent brown, brittle tasted of peanuts in a way far different from peanut butter. But it was also one of those candies the dentists warned you about -- with brittle's adamantine hardness, you were bound to lose a filling or chip a tooth. Spoilsports.
Now, according to Nation's Restaurant News, peanut and other nut and seed brittles are undergoing a revival in restaurants across the country, where pastry chefs are crushing them and sprinkling them over other desserts such as puddings and cakes (think pistachio brittle over creamy cheesecake), to add texture. They're also using brittle as a component of layered confections, spicing it up with cayenne and cloves, or simply incorporating it into the mix of components on the dessert plate (such as a panna cotta served with olive-oil cake and figs).
With a startling protein content of 24 percent, making it the most nutritious of legumes, peanuts may be making a comeback, and in its simplicity and ease of preparation, peanut brittle will be leading the charge, followed by brittles made from, among others, pecans, pistachios and pumpkin seeds. (Visit Kitchen Daily for a selection of peanut brittle recipes.)
That's great news for peanut-brittle lovers. But what Nation's Restaurant News didn't mention is just how American peanut brittle is. Native to Brazil, and brought to West Africa by Portuguese traders, it was carried to America by enslaved blacks in the holds of ships – though some Southwest Indian tribes had also thought up the concoction. Cooking peanuts in sugar may have been one of the earliest preservation methods – and a way of using up sugar, which was fast becoming a cheap commodity in the United States. Recipes for simple peanut sheet candy started appearing in American cookbooks in the mid-19th century, though it wasn't called peanut brittle till the early 20th. George Washington Carver even included peanut brittle as one of the recipes in his 1916 publication, "How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption."
We're just glad the spirit of invention lives on, and it's coming to a bistro nearby.