Busting out the brittle

Shards of yummy, snackable goodness!

I tossed myself into a minor panic yesterday.  I realized that an entire busy week had flown by, and Baked Sunday Mornings was again upon me… and I was totally unprepared.  Luckily, for me, this week’s recipe – Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle from the new Baked Elements – was a relatively easy one to churn out, though I’m always slightly skeptical (as I’m pretty positive most of my fellow BSM bakers are) when it comes to making something vaguely candy-like for the first time.

Perhaps in keeping with the Halloween theme of this weekend, candy-making always conjures up images of bubbling, boiling, cauldron-like heavy-bottomed saucepans roiling with intensely hot sugar substances – and oh yeah, the chances of getting scalded by said substances being turned up a notch for constant klutzes (yes, even in the kitchen) like yours truly.  I’ve developed my craft through many a burnt batch of caramel, and practice truly makes perfect, but it can be a frightening prospect nonetheless.  Thankfully, I found a few moments in my busy schedule yesterday to run to our local co-op (Outpost Natural Foods) and quickly fill a bag up with pepitas in order to come home and bust out this brittle within the space of an hour.  I doubt it took even that long, fortunately… and it’s good to know this treat can be assembled rather quickly.

This particular brittle is a unique recipe in the pumpkin chapter of Baked Elements.  Like the Baked boys, I’m a huge fan of pumpkin – and that’s probably an understatement.  Also like Matt and Renato, I like the whole package – not just the flesh (and I realize as I type that how faintly dirty that sounds!).  This recipe, obviously, focuses on the seeds.  However, these are not the larger, flatter, mature seeds you scoop out of the pumpkin for your Jack-o-Lantern.  You could probably toast those up and use those, but I’ve found that they are still chewier and stick to your teeth, which is not the crunchy texture you want to aim for with this brittle.  You want to look for the smaller, green, raw pumpkin seeds often referred to as pepitas.

I’ve begun a minor love affair with pepitas – not just because they are related to pumpkin, one of my all-time favorite flavor loves – but simply because when toasted and tossed with a few pinches of salt, they are a lovely snack.  They will put you in mind of sunflower seeds, but I find them to be even better.  You can eat them solo, or toss them into a mixed green salad.  Or you can do what another favorite Brooklyn-based bakery of mine, One Girl Cookies, does and sprinkle those nutty, toasted, salted pepitas across the top of a creamy pumpkin pie for your Thanksgiving dessert.  Their recipe is so phenomenal (it even has a slightly crunchy cornmeal crust) that I feel provoked to share it with you – and in doing so, give a shout out to One-Girl Cookies and their fabulousness as well.  Check out their cookbook – One Girl Cookies – and visit their bakery the next time you venture to Baked.  You won’t be disappointed.  And their recipe for Pumpkin Pie with Salted Roasted Pepitas?  It’s below.

Back to Baked’s brittle (and some pretty heavy alliteration in that sentence!). First of all, you want to toast your pepitas.  I would traditionally do this in the oven, but I opted this time for Baked’s quick-toast directions and toasted them in canola oil in a skillet on the stove.  It was a rather sensory-satisfying experience, stirring those little green seeds – watching them gently turn brown, smelling their delicious yumminess, and hearing them sizzle and pop over the heat.  Once the toasting is done, toss the seeds with a little bit of salt and set them aside in a large bowl (I would suggest a large metal bowl if you will be pouring your boiling sugar into the seeds, as I did – versus adding your seeds to the boiled sugar, as the recipe suggests.  I used a smaller saucepan, so I had no excess room to add two cups of seeds!)

While making this recipe, I was reminded of watching Nigella Lawson make a honeycomb treat she called “Hokey Pokey” on one of her shows a few years ago.  The recipe is very similar:  you basically start with 2 cups of sugar dampened with a small amount of water, honey, and corn syrup, and slowly bring this to a boil.  After adding butter, you let this gooey mixture cook and boil for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a nice golden brown color.  I cannot stress enough how you should watch this mixture as you are cooking it.  Don’t walk away!  Keep your eyes on the color and texture.  If you don’t, it can quickly turn to hard-crack candy – and a burnt caramel in the bargain.

The magic happens when you slowly toss in some baking soda.  This is a key ingredient for honeycomb or brittle recipes… and be prepared for the surprising result.  The boiling sugar suddenly foams up like mad – and you want this to happen, as the baking soda almost aerates and ‘lightens’ the candy, making it less dense (or, that’s how I interpret its function; I could be incorrect). Don’t worry about that bitter taste of the baking soda, as it will not affect your final result – as it cooks, it does its job and that flavor dissolves.  Fortunately, too, the Baked boys did something clever with the subsequent addition of warm cinnamon and extra salt to boost up the ‘fall’ flavor or your pumpkin seed brittle.

It was a funny moment in my kitchen as I reached the baking soda addition point.  I found that the saucepan I used was too small, and as the sugar foamed up, I needed to hold it over my bowl of seeds – it rolled over the edges of the pan, into the seeds, and I needed to toss in that cinnamon and salt very quickly!  Panic set in!  Lesson learned:  make sure you measure out your baking soda, cinnamon and salt prior to adding the baking soda, and keep them handy by the stove, as things start to move fast at this point!  I did some frantic stirring, and the seeds and sugar mixture quickly thickened up.  Using several wooden spoons and utensils, I turned the brittle out onto a buttered sheet of parchment on a baking sheet and set to spreading it out.  This was not an easy task.  Not only does the brittle start to harden quickly, I found that it also frequently stuck to the utensils, so I ended up patting it out with my ‘asbestos’ hands (it helps to run your hands under some cool water first).  Be very careful not to burn yourself – the mixture is still hot.  If you cannot pat it out with your hands – and I did this in light, quick touches – make sure to heavily butter the spatula or utensil you smooth the brittle out with.

After the brittle was spread out, there was nothing left to do but let it completely cool for several hours on the parchment – well, except soak and scrub those candied sugar-coated pans and bowls!  Here’s the final fun part:  once your brittle has completely cooled, pick up the entire piece and drop it from on-high right back into the baking sheet to shatter it into jagged pieces.

I found this brittle was extremely tasty… warm and buttery, with a nice touch of cinnamon and honey, and toasty notes from those nutty pumpkin seeds.  Growing up, brittle almost never appealed to me.  The mere mention of brittle conjured up a Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie brittle my mother frequently made, extremely buttery and sprinkled on top with a dense coating of crushed walnuts.  That may sound yummy to most of you – but remember by intense dislike of most nuts, and walnuts especially?  Yuck!  In a similar vein, a neighbor of ours used to make a dense peanut brittle that my father particularly adored.  While it looked like a tempting, butterscotch-ish treat to me as a child – again, it was studded with big chunks of – BLECH! – peanuts!  NO FUN!

Thanks to Matt and Renato, I have found my brittle euphoria in this Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle.  It’s a rich treat, indeed, and probably not one I will make too often, but it’s the ultimate in sweet, salty, and toasted.  As they suggest in the book, make this brittle to give away to your friends – stacked and bundled together with a simple piece of twine or thin ribbon.  For those of you with dental work – like me – you don’t need to worry too much when eating this brittle.  I was a little petrified I might chip or crack a veneer, but if you make this brittle correctly and the baking soda has done its job, it has a perfect snappy crunch that isn’t too dense or jawbreaking (regardless, just try and take the necessary precautions to not bite into it with those particular teeth you’ve had dental work on!).

Try this unique treat today by visiting the Baked Sunday Mornings website for the recipe: http://bakedsundaymornings.com/2012/10/21/in-the-oven-toasted-pumpkin-seed-brittle/ and be sure to check out how my BSM friends are doing on their blogs!

And, oh yes, I have not forgotten… the recipe for the ultimate pumpkin pie.  Trust me on this one.  And you’re welcome.

FRESH PUMPKIN PIE WITH SALTY ROASTED PEPITAS

Recipe by Dawn Casale & David Crofton of One Girl Cookies

From their book, One Girl Cookies: Recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Whoopie Pies, and Cookies from Brooklyn’s Beloved Bakery

Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Salty Roasted Pepitas (photo courtesy of One Girl Cookies)

Crust

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon table salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 tablespoons ice water

1 large egg yolk

Pepitas

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon canola oil

Filling

1-1/2 cups half-and-half

2 large eggs

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon table salt

Pinch of ground cloves

1. To make the crust, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse 4 or 5 times, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the ice water and egg yolk. Add the egg mixture to the food processor, and pulse until the crumbs begin to climb the side of the bowl and hold their shape when pressed together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands—and a little muscle—form the dough into a 5-inch-diameter disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before rolling.

3. Unwrap the dough, and using a rolling pin, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface to form an 11-inch circle. Working quickly and carefully, line a 9-inch pie dish with the dough. With your fingertips, make sure that the edge of the pie is smooth and even. Refrigerate it for 20 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

5. Remove the pie dish from the refrigerator. Line the crust with tin foil, making sure to cover the sides, and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the dish and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the sides are somewhat firm and hold their shape. Remove the foil and bake for 6 minutes, until the bottom of the crust looks dry and the shell is a very pale golden color. Remove the dish from the oven and let the crust cool. Leave the oven on.

6. To make the pepitas, stir together the pumpkin seeds, salt, and oil in a small bowl. Scatter the seeds onto a small baking sheet and toast in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the seeds are slightly toasted. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the pepitas cool.

7. To make the filling, mix together the half-and-half and eggs in a medium bowl. Add the pumpkin puree and mix well. Then add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves, and mix well. The filling will be very runny. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Sprinkle the pepitas on the filling (*see my note below).

8. Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the dish and bake for 20 more minutes, or until the center of the pie jiggles just a bit when you touch the oven rack. Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the pie cool completely.

*Mark’s note:  I toasted my pepitas, set them aside, and let the pie bake on its own for about 10-15 minutes before sprinkling the top with the pepitas.  I did this to prevent them from over-browning – or, as a reverse scenario – perhaps soaking up too much moisture from the filling and getting soggy.  This is totally a matter of your own preference.

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10 thoughts on “Busting out the brittle

  1. Hi Mark! Glad you made it! I love toasting pepitas and tossing them in salads too…YUM. Your brittle looks fabulous – I had to take mine to work or I would have eaten it all. Good to know about using the seeds out of the pumpkins…my first batch of brittle was chewy and I couldn’t figure out why. Thanks for the tip smarty pants! :)

  2. Your brittle looks fantastic! Next time I will definitely have to try the trick of dropping the entire block of brittle – it sounds like fun and quicker than breaking it up by hand.

  3. Our brittles look IDENTICAL. I’m starting to think we were brought together by BSM to be baking twins. ;-) Pumpkin is one flavor we can agree on– I eat pepitas all the time.

    I love your post, as always– so funny, great writing/voice, and you always make think, “Oh yeah… ” (like with the sunflower seed comparison, etc.) Also, your posts are generally an educational experience for me, and that makes me happy. :-D

    So glad you were able to make this recipe, despite the last-minute panic!

  4. You made it! And it’s gorgeous.

    I never liked pumpkin seeds until I tried pepitas. They’re a whole different thing without that nasty hull. I love them as a snack, and in granola.

    I feel pretty confident about my caramel-making skills after this one.

  5. Mark, that pumpkin pie looks fabulous. Cornmeal is one of those ingredients that I love to find standing out just a little more than it should (in a pie crust or pizza crust or muffins).

    Your brittle looks pretty yummy, too!

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