Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pecan and Fennel Seed Brittle: A Twist on Tradition Thanksgiving Menu


Pecans 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.

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