PecansPecans are native to the Americas and grow throughout the southeastern and southwestern United states, as well as in Mexico. Early colonists perfected the cultivation of these nuts, which were a treasured food of Native Americans. The sweet and buttery-tasting nuts of the pecan tree — a member of the hickory family — are a sign of fall in the south, where they’re made into pies and pralines for holidays and other celebrations.
I like to play with their barky flavor by preserving them in a sweet nut brittle that will keep for months and months. This light brittle provides shards of quick energy and is a great companion for you and your family on hikes and rambles.
Pecan and Fennel Seed Brittle
Makes 4 cups
There are some tricks to making a good nut brittle. Baking soda and butter help give it the characteristic snap; a warmed baking sheet enables you to roll the hot, liquid mixture thin before it hardens; and flexible silicone sheet-pan liners make getting the brittle out of the pan (and clean-up) a cinch. A touch of fennel seed gives this brittle an old-time licorice flavor that I find charming.
Line an 18- by 13-inch baking sheet with a silicone mat or a heavily greased 18- by 13-inch piece of parchment paper (generously coat with nonstick, unflavored pan spray) and put it in the oven. Then heat the oven to 200°F.
Generously coat another silicone mat or piece of parchment paper with nonstick pan spray and set aside. In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together
4 cups sugar
2 cups good-quality honey
2 cups water
Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the mixture is a deep amber and reaches 250°F on a candy thermometer. Stir in
2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cook until the pecans and fennel seeds are highly aromatic, about 2 minutes. The sugar mixture will continue to darken. Once the mixture reaches 290°F, turn off the heat and quickly (the mixture will foam up quite a bit) add
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons baking soda
Take the warmed baking sheet from the oven and put it on your work surface. Give the brittle mixture a stir and then carefully pour it onto the baking sheet. Put the second greased silicone mat (or sheet of parchment paper), slick-side down, on top of the brittle. With a rolling pin, roll the mixture as thin as possible. Set aside until completely cool, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Use your fingers to break the brittle into big pieces and store in an airtight container or an apothecary jar for up to 6 months.Recipe and text excerpted from Preserving Wild Foods © 2012 by Matthew Weingarten and Raquel Pelzel. All rights reserved.
Go to: A Twist on Tradition Thanksgiving Menu for more great Thanksgiving recipes.