Cooking and baking are usually equal parts science, art and love. And failed attempts in the kitchen are usually inedible. But every great once in a while, luck lends a hand. Such is the tale of the beloved Southern delicacy, peanut brittle. Want to know more about the American dessert that almost wasn’t, how to make it and, most importantly, where to get it without having to make it? We’ve got you covered.
History of Peanut Brittle
Sure, there’s a tall tale around the initial creation of peanut brittle. After all, if it’s Southern, it merits a tall tale. (A giant named Tony Beaver, cousin of Paul Bunyan, saved a town from flooding by dumping giant-sized peanuts and molasses into a rapidly rising river.)
But the more probable story goes a little something like this: in 1890, a Southern lady was making taffy. She inadvertently replaced a critical ingredient with a very wrong one. She added baking soda instead of cream of tartar. But being a resourceful cook, she didn’t want to waste the food if it could remotely be salvaged, so she pressed on with her task.
Instead of a soft, chewy taffy, she found herself with a crispy, crunchy brittle. Like the rest of us, she tried it and loved it, and the world has been better for that mistake!
How Peanut Brittle is Made
The recipe for peanut brittle showed up in cookbooks on a consistent basis in the 1960s. Even though the initial recipe was made by accident, you have to be very mindful and intentional when making peanut brittle and other candies. While not necessarily difficult, it’s not exactly something you can leave unattended.
Sugar, corn syrup and water are combined in a pot or kettle and cooked to a very specific 310 ºF, as shown on a candy thermometer. (If you don’t have one, it’s worth the small investment.) 300 ºF is the beginning range for hard crack, but we heat all the way to 310 ºF to ensure the brittle has its signature texture.
Peanuts are added, then vanilla, butter and the “whoops” ingredient: fresh baking soda. At Papa C Pies, we use the right amount of baking soda for what my dad aka Papa C calls that "Easy Crunch" where it isn't too hard and easy on the teeth.
The concoction is spread thin on a baking sheet or marble slab to cool before being broken into a delightful confection.
As a final note, we always start with raw Spanish redskin peanuts that actually roast in the pot/kettle while cooking! There are some outfits out there that cheat and use pre-roasted peanuts and cook their mixture in the microwave. They do this because they can produce a lot more in a short amount of time, but the taste pales in comparison to the classic tried and true method our grandparents used!