What is Brittle?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Brittle is a type of candy made by heating sugar syrup to the hard crack stage, mixing it with various inclusions, and then spreading it out on a flat surface to cool. After the brittle cools, it is extremely thin and, as the name implies, it is also very brittle. The candy can easily be broken up into shards for packaging after it cools. Many candy stores sell brittle, because it is an extremely popular form of candy, and it can also be made at home by cooks who have the right equipment.

Pieces of peppermint candies may be added to the mixture when making brittle.
Pieces of peppermint candies may be added to the mixture when making brittle.

The sugar syrup used in brittle is made by mixing sugar and water and then heating them until they reach temperatures around 310 degrees Fahrenheit (154 degrees Celsius). At this stage, the inclusion can be mixed in. Nuts are probably the most popular inclusion in brittle, with peanut brittle being the most famous version of this candy, but it is also possible to mix in other hard candies, like fragments of peppermint, should cooks so desire.

Both cashews and almonds can be used to make brittle candy.
Both cashews and almonds can be used to make brittle candy.

Because the sugar syrup is extremely hot, it is important to work carefully around brittle. Wearing gloves to protect the hands is advised, along with face protection, because if a bubble in the sugar syrup pops, it can send painfully hot gobs of what feels like napalm flying around the kitchen. Once the inclusions have been carefully added, the hot sugar mixture needs to be poured out on a surface like marble or metal and quickly spread to thin it out for cooling.

Brittle should not be poured onto plastic or wax paper, because the candy will melt these substances and fuse with them. Marble is preferred by candymakers because it is a very smooth, easily cleaned surface which is naturally cool, hastening the cooling process. Many candymakers like to stretch their brittle by hand after applying it to the cooling surface with spatulas; cooks who choose to do this should test the temperature before putting their hands on the hot candy.

Many people enjoy making brittle because it is a very basic, simple candy which can go in a lot of directions. Pieces of brittle can also be used in a variety of ways. In addition to being eaten straight, brittle can be used on gingerbread houses and other confectionery constructions, or it may be mixed in to ice cream, cakes, and other desserts to add some crunch and flavor.

Brittle is very susceptible to humidity, so it should never be made on a humid day, and it should be wrapped before being stored in airtight containers. If brittle gets too moist, it will turn sticky and chewy, rather than crisp and crunchy, and many people find this textural change undesirable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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