Nut brittle is one of those delicious old standbys at Christmas, but this recipe takes the familiar and gives it a tweak. First, it uses pistachios. The translucent amber of the caramelized sugar is studded with vibrant green nuts, which show reddish skin.
And if your kitchen is equipped with silicone baking mats -- those handy, rubbery sheets that line baking sheets so well -- use them to finesse your brittle. (One popular brand is Silpat.) You’ll wind up with a perfectly flat, smooth sheet of candy, wonderful for breaking into jagged-edged pieces.
The key to great brittle is to cook the sugar carefully to keep it smooth without any crystallization and then to press it flat. This brittle keeps for weeks as long as it is kept cool and dry.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pistachios on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browned, about 9 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack.
Line a jellyroll pan with a silicone baking mat. (Or butter a jellyroll pan.) Have another jellyroll pan and baking mat ready if using the baking mats.
Mix together the sugar, water, light corn syrup and butter in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until the butter is incorporated and the sugar crystals are dissolved. Remove the spoon and do not stir again. Keep a small bowl of ice water and a pastry brush handy to brush down the sides of the pot as any sugar crystals start to form (this prevents the sugar from crystallizing and producing a grainy brittle). Simmer until the mixture turns a rich amber color, 12 to 14 minutes. Keep a close watch as the sugar will begin to turn amber quickly. Remove the pan from the heat. (It probably will not color evenly, but do not worry as the next step will mix it thoroughly).
Quickly mix in the baking soda, salt, vanilla and pistachios and pour the mixture onto the baking mat-lined pan. Flatten the mixture with the other baking mat to make a thin layer of brittle. (Or, if using the buttered jellyroll pan, use a buttered, offset spatula to quickly spread the mixture about 1/4-inch thick.) The mixture will be very hot and you may need to wear a kitchen mitt as you press on top of the mat to smooth the layer of brittle. Place the other jellyroll pan on top of the mat and press very hard to form an even layer. Lift off the pan and peel up the top mat. Place the bottom jellyroll pan with the brittle on a rack to cool thoroughly. When cool, break into pieces and store in a parchment-lined airtight tin.
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