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Almond brittle is a confection featuring this particular nut set in hardened slabs of sugar candy. While commonly referred to as a nut, an almond is actually a nutritious and vitamin-rich fruit seed, having either a sweet or bitter taste. Only the sweet variety of almond is used to make brittle. Several other ingredients are found in the confection, including sugar and water, which are heated to a certain temperature to achieve the candy's hard texture. Brittle likely dates back to the 19th century, when ingredients like peanuts and molasses were common, eventually growing to include other types of sugar and nuts.
An almond is a seed found in a type of stone fruit, though it's often referred to as a nut. The tree is related to others, such as cherry, peach, and apricot, which all have inedible pits. This particular fruit seed offers a wealth of nutrients, especially manganese, vitamin E, and copper, as well as B12.
Both bitter and sweet varieties of almonds exist, with the latter being the type that are eaten fresh and used in treats like brittle. The nuts may be raw, roasted, or seasoned before using in candies. Chopped, slivered, and whole almonds may also be used in this confection.
Other ingredients used to make almond brittle include sugar, water, and optional leavening agents for a lighter-textured candy. Salt and butter are also commonly added for flavor and a richer, creamier brittle. Additions to basic almond brittle include sprinkling chocolate over the sheet during cooling, mixing in other types of nuts, and seasoning with extracts and spices.
Making almond brittle is a simple but careful process. Water and sugar are heated to about 300° Fahrenheit (149° Celsius), the temperature where candy reaches a "hard crack stage." If a sugar solution at this stage is instantly chilled, it will toughen and form cracks or breaks. Once the confection is brought to this state, it's removed from the heat, and almonds and additional ingredients are stirred in. The mixture is spread onto a baking sheet and cooled, after which it is lightly broken up with a mallet or gently dropped onto a hard surface.
The earliest known brittle was made during the 19th century using peanuts, or groundnuts, as they were commonly called. Earlier recipes called for less refined sugars like molasses. Later, almond brittle was made with corn syrup and other sweeteners. The variety of nuts grew as well to include almonds, walnuts, and pecans, among numerous others.
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