by Louise Ayer
The first time I created this nut brittle was in 2011. My daughter Anjuli, poor girl, was recuperating from pneumonia. She had been staying in Connecticut while getting ready perhaps, for years of travel. She wanted to experience different cultures, including learning the language. She was going to be outside of the U.S. for quite a while, so her planning and packing involved millions of little details. The last thing Anjuli needed was to come down with pneumonia. I wanted to make something that would lift her spirits in this never-ending winter. It was Valentine’s Day, so I thought she would love it if I made some nut brittle and backed it with chocolate.
It was early morning and I was still lying in bed imagining this brittle. I wanted to sneak into the kitchen and make my candy before anyone else was stirring. I did not want to go shopping. I had just received a shipment from one of my favorite online stores that imports products from Spain called La Tienda. The shipment included olive oils, smoky sweet paprika, and a bottle of capers packed in sea salt, but also a good supply of Marcona almonds that would go so elegantly with dark chocolate. I knew I had plenty of sesame seeds. Anjuli and I both adore their rich, warm nutty flavor. Pecans and pistachios are naturals with chocolate, and I had bags of both in the freezer. Chocolate, what about the chocolate? I remembered those artisanal Mexican chocolate disks from Taza Chocolate that Anjuli had given me for Christmas. Each disk was laced with cinnamon or almond or something as exotic as guajillo chiles. I had been waiting for an occasion such as this to use some. I hopped out of bed feeling peaceful and excited, knowing that I had what I needed.
Just as the rest of the house was stirring and sniffing and wondering what delicious things were happening in the kitchen, I was pouring the thick, sweet candy brittle layer onto the nuts and chocolate. Then I snuck the whole cookie sheet in the freezer until the chocolate was hard, and I could easily break it up into pieces. I carried up a box to Anjuli, and we all had some. This candy has all the crunch and butteriness of caramel brittle backed by rich, creamy chocolate studded with salty nuts. It has a good snap but it also gives way when you bite in and doesn’t break your teeth. Spirits were lifted, and we all felt a little snappy.
I have made this brittle many times since then, usually for either Valentine’s Day or Christmas. I have used many different kinds of bittersweet chocolate. They are all good as long as they are bittersweet and of high quality. This candy, like all food, in my opinion, is dependent on the quality of the ingredients.
I made it most recently for Christmas of 2022, since Anjuli and Austin both came home for Christmas and brought their significant others. Anjuli’s boyfriend had never had it before and finished almost half the batch on his own in one day. I asked him what he liked about it so much. He said he loved the flavor of the Marcona almonds, the richness of the sesame seeds, and the combination of bittersweet chocolate and salt. And, of course, he loved the sweet crunchiness of the brittle. What’s not to love!
Nut brittle with bittersweet chocolate (all organic ingredients)
Makes about 24 1”x2” squares
1 pound bittersweet chocolate of your choice (I used Tazo chocolate)
½ cup toasted sesame seeds
2 cups toasted pecans
1 cup toasted Marcona almonds
½ cup toasted pistachios
6 tablespoons maple syrup
1 ½ cups raw cane sugar (or coconut palm sugar)
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons water
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
Note: The nuts and seeds I toast in a dry frying pan set to medium low until they start to change color. I toast the seeds separately from the nuts.
Make the chocolate and nuts:
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, letting it hang over the ends a bit. Melt the chocolate completely in a double boiler or in a bowl set in a frying pan of simmering water. Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir to make sure it is all melted. Spread the chocolate on the parchment paper covering the entire surface of the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Sprinkle with the seeds and the nuts. *See Cook’s Note.
Make the candy:
Combine the maple syrup, sugar, butter, vinegar, and water in a 3-quart heavy pot over medium low, stirring occasionally as it melts and comes to a boil. Once it is boiling, cover it and let it boil for 2-3 minutes. Then uncover the pan and wash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water. Let it continue to boil slowly over moderate heat without stirring for 20-30 minutes, until it reaches the hard crack stage (290°F). If it threatens to smoke then stir it without touching the sides of the pan. Pour and spread the candy over the nuts as thin as you can.
Cool, freeze, and break:
Let it cool on the cookie sheet on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Once it is cool, stick the whole cookie sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes until the chocolate gets good and hard. Then break it in pieces and store in an airtight container. No need to refrigerate.
(Cook’s Note: Sometimes, I use salted pistachios and/or salted Marcona almonds. If so, then eliminate the ¾ teaspoon of coarse salt)
Happy Valentine’s Day!