Posts Tagged ‘sugar’

As someone who likes to cook regularly, my dad came up with a great Christmas gift for me in December. He and I do not live in the same town anymore, but he called a gentleman where I live and arranged to have all of our kitchen knives sharpened. I dropped the knives off at the knife sharpener’s house one morning and had them back a few hours later. He sharpened 13 items, including our serrated knives and two pairs of kitchen shears. Our knives are just like new again! If you know someone who cooks a lot, keep the knife sharpening idea in mind as a gift! FYI:  The knife sharpener told me to never try to sharpen my knives at home, nor to hone them with a steel. Instead, he told me to use a strop to hone our knives prior to each use; a strop is a piece of leather that was traditionally used to sharpen straight-edge razors in barber shops. Now, onto the 94th episode of Good Eats, which was all about candy.

Peanut Brittle

I have made some candy in the past, such as fudge, divinity, and caramels. Peanut brittle was the first type of candy Alton made in this episode. For this recipe, you will need a heavy saucier with a lid, a wooden spoon, and two half-sheet pans; line one pan with a silicone mat, and lube the back side of the other pan liberally with vegetable oil.


Two half-sheet pans, one with its back oiled and the other lined with a silicone mat.

Begin by rubbing the sides of your saucier with a vegetable oil-coated paper towel, as this will help with crystal formation on the sides of the pan.


Saucier with its sides oiled.

Next, put 3 C of sugar and 1 1/2 C water in the saucier.


Sugar and water placed in saucier.

Place the pan over high heat. Note:  If you are worried about your stove producing uneven heat, Alton suggests placing a cast iron skillet between your saucier and your burner to diffuse heat. Stir the sugar/water mixture occasionally, bringing it to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pan and set a timer for three minutes. This will allow the steam in the pan to wash down any crystals from the sides of the pan.

After three minutes, remove the lid and decrease the heat to medium. Meanwhile, toss 1 1/2 C lightly salted peanuts with 1/2 t cinnamon and 1/2 t cayenne pepper.

Continue cooking the syrup until it reaches a light amber color and has slow bubble formation, which Alton says is at 350 degrees; Alton says you really do not need a thermometer to make this brittle, as you can just eyeball it. I decided to use the thermometer, as “light amber” seems subjective to me. Yeah, so Alton’s temperature of 350 degrees is COMPLETELY WRONG, and will result in scorched syrup. I had to discard my syrup and begin again.

This time, I decided to eyeball the light amber color.


Second attempt at syrup – this is what I determined to be light amber.

Once you have reached light amber, turn off the heat and dump in the peanuts, stirring.

Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared silicone mat, distributing the nuts evenly with a spatula. Press the mixture down with the lubed backside of the second prepared pan. Set the brittle aside to cool completely. Once the brittle has hardened, place the second half-sheet pan, this time inverted, on top of the brittle pan. By shaking the brittle between the two pans, you can easily break it into pieces. So, my verdict of this recipe is not that favorable. I have no idea how Alton recommended 350 degrees for the syrup, as it was just way too high. The second time I made my syrup, I think I probably pulled it off the heat too early, as my brittle did this weird foaming thing when I poured it onto the mat.


Brittle poured onto mat and beginning to foam.

My resulting brittle was opaque, somewhat gritty, and had an odd white hue. The candy tasted fine, but it wasn’t what I think of as brittle, which is normally caramel-colored, shiny, and clear.


Even my dog thought my brittle looked weird.

I think this recipe would have been much more successful if Alton had provided the correct temperature for the syrup, which a Google search says is around 300 degrees. In theory, the eyeballing technique could work for someone who makes candy often, but candy making requires more precision than eyeballing. I’d follow a different peanut brittle recipe next time for sure.

Acid Jellies

When we were kids, our parents would give us each a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I preferred nut-free candy (still do), so my box was typically a mix of caramels, creams, and jellies. It had been years since I had last had a jelly, so I was pretty stoked to see jellies appear in this episode.

To make Alton’s version of jellies, combine in a saucepan 1/2 C fresh lemon juice, 1/4 C fresh lime juice, 1/2 C water, and 8 packages of gelatin. Set this saucepan aside with no heat.


Gelatin, lemon juice, lime juice, and water combined in a saucepan off of heat.


Gelatin mixture after sitting.

In a second small saucepan, place 1 C sugar and 3/4 C water, and place the pan over high heat. Again, you can use a cast iron skillet as a diffuser, if you wish.


Sugar and water placed in small saucepan over high heat.

Stir this mixture until the sugar dissolves and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, place a lid on the pan and set a timer for 3 minutes. As with the recipe for brittle above, the steam in the pan will serve to wash crystals down that may have formed on the sides of the pan. After 3 minutes, remove the lid from the pan and attach a candy thermometer. Cook the syrup until it reaches 300 degrees.


Sugar syrup cooking to 300 degrees.

Once at 300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and pour the syrup into the gelatin mixture, stirring constantly.


Sugar syrup being poured into gelatin mixture.

Place the mixture over low heat, continuing to stir until the gelatin dissolves. I had some difficulty with this phase of the process, as a solid mass of sugar seemed to form in the bottom of my pan. I am guessing this was because my sugar syrup cooled too much too quickly. I opted to increase the heat under my pan, allowing the sugar to dissolve again, which worked.


Gelatin mixture placed over low heat to dissolve.

Once you have a smooth, clear mixture, add 2 T lemon zest and 2 T lime zest, and pour the mixture into an oiled 8-inch square pan.


Completed jellies, poured into greased pan.

Let the jellies sit at room temperature for four hours. Once set, turn the jellies out and cut them into 1-inch squares with a pizza cutter.


Jellies, cut into cubes.

Transfer the cubes to a bowl and toss them with the remaining 1/4 C sugar until coated.

Move the cubes to a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan, and allow them to dry for 24 hours at room temperature before eating.


Alton’s jellies.

Alton’s jellies had intense citrus flavor and a great balance of sweetness and tartness. I did find them to be a bit more rubbery than I would have liked, but that could have perhaps been due to my difficulties with combining my two mixtures. I am tempted to try these again to see if I can get a better result, as they were pretty and their flavor was great. My only other complaint with these candies was that they remained very sticky and damp on the outside, and they never really dried out as Alton said they would; I found that this was a common complaint in the online recipe reviews, and I am not sure how to fix that issue.

Chocolate Taffy

I suppose you couldn’t really have a candy episode without including something chocolate, so that’s where chocolate taffy comes in. This recipe requires only a few ingredients, beginning with combining 1/2 t salt, 2/3 C Dutch cocoa, and 2 C sugar in a large saucepan.


Salt, sugar, and cocoa.

Stir this mixture with a whisk to combine, and add 1 C light corn syrup, 1 t white vinegar, and 1/4 C + 1 T water. Stir the pot over medium heat to dissolve the sugar, and then increase the heat to bring the chocolate to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low and attach a candy thermometer.

Cook the chocolate until it reaches 260 degrees, and then stir in 1 1/2 T butter.


Chocolate cooking to 260 degrees.

Pour the taffy onto a silicone mat-lined pan, smoothing it with a spatula, and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, don latex gloves and lube them with butter. It is time to pull the taffy. First, use the mat to fold the taffy into thirds.


Taffy, folded in thirds.

Next, fold the taffy in thirds again, but in the opposite direction. Knead the taffy with your hands, as if working with dough. The chocolate will still be quite warm.


Taffy, folded in thirds the other direction.

Pull the taffy from both ends, folding them back into the middle.


Pulling ends of taffy back to the middle.

Then, pick the taffy up and continue to twist and pull the taffy until it has striations in the middle and is very hard to pull.

Roll the taffy into a log on the silicone mat and cut it into four pieces with kitchen shears.

Roll each piece of taffy into a snake, cutting each log into 1-inch pieces. If the candy becomes too hard to cut, you can place it in the microwave for about five seconds to soften it. Keep the taffy pieces separate while you work, or they will stick to each other.


Taffy cut into individual pieces.

Roll each piece of taffy in a piece of wax paper and place them in an air-tight container. This one was disappointing for me because my taffy came out rock hard, while Alton described something like a Tootsie Roll. I am guessing that my taffy was not pulled enough to reach the desired texture, but I did pull it until it felt like it was solidifying. Maybe I needed to soften my taffy again, and pull it more? Or, maybe the “T-Rex” nickname my brother gave me as a teenager was more justified than I realized? Either way, I don’t think I will do this one again. All-in-all, this episode was pretty “meh” for me.

I was very excited for this episode of Good Eats because my dad made this recipe for Ted and me several years ago. I remember telling my dad about Good Eats, thinking he would really love the scientific approach to food. My dad’s first reaction to Alton Brown,  however, was to ponder who the “nerdy” guy in the Hawaiian shirt was. After watching a few episodes of the show, he became hooked and was a true Good Eats devotee. We went to my parents’ house for dinner one night several years ago and Dad told us he would be making a special dessert of Alton’s. Sure enough, it was Alton’s banana split. Dad was critical of his recipe outcome, but we all thought it was great. Needless to say, I was excited to try making this dessert myself.

Banana Splitsville

The star ingredient of the 25th (Have I really done that many already?) episode of Good Eats is sugar. One recipe is featured in this episode, but it features sugar in a few applications. To start this recipe, you make the candy garnishes, or “doodads” as Alton calls them, for your banana split. You put sugar in a saucepan, adding water until you have the consistency of wet sand. The online recipe calls for a full cup of water, but this will give you a consistency that is far thinner than what you desire. I used a half cup of water, at most. Oh, and you want to add ~ 1 T of corn syrup to this mixture, as it will prevent the sugar from recrystallizing.

Sugar, corn syrup, and water.

Sugar, corn syrup, and water.

Heat this sugar syrup over high heat until the sugar dissolves. If you have a candy thermometer, you will want to use it at this point. I made a mistake in using too wide of a pan, so my thermometer was not submerged.

Heating the sugar syrup, but my thermometer was not submerged enough.

Heating the sugar syrup, but my thermometer was not submerged enough.

This left me to go by my eye, but I do not recommend that method if you have not made candy or caramel before. While your syrup heats, prepare two sheet pans by turning them over and covering them with parchment paper. When your syrup hits ~300 degrees, you can begin to swirl the pan. Until this point, you want to leave the syrup alone. You will know that your syrup is approaching 300 degrees, as it will start to turn amber in color.

Around 300 degrees.

Around 300 degrees.

When your syrup reaches 340 degrees, remove it from the heat. It will be a deep amber by this point. Stir the mixture slowly, as you do not want to incorporate too much air; this can result in cloudy candy. Continue to stir the mixture until it falls from a spoon in a steady stream.

Around 340 degrees. Cooling the syrup by stirring gently.

Around 340 degrees. Cooling the syrup by stirring gently.

When your syrup has reached this point, you want to make your “doodads” by swirling the syrup over the parchment paper, creating abstract sugar art to accessorize your banana splits. I found that I should have waited an additional minute or so before starting my doodads because they were easier to make as the syrup cooled more. Do not over-obsess about your doodads, as they will likely not be perfect, nor will they all look alike. Once your doodads are made, allow them to cool on the parchment.





While your doodads cool, put the remaining syrup back on the heat until you see faint wisps of smoke; when this happens, remove the pan from the heat and add an equal amount of heavy cream. The caramel will bubble and hiss.

Syrup back on the heat.

Syrup back on the heat.

Cream added once smoke was seen.

Cream added once smoke was seen.

I added nearly 2 C of cream, roughly guessing as to how much cream to add. Put the caramel back over the heat and cook for ~3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not be alarmed if a glob of caramel seems to be in the bottom of the pan, as it will melt again when you put it back over the heat. The sauce for the dessert is now complete. If possible, make this in advance, so it has time to cool down. When ready to serve dessert, quarter one banana per person, leaving the peels on.

Bananas and sugar.

Bananas and sugar.

One banana, quartered, per person.

One banana, quartered, per person.

Rub the exposed surfaces of the bananas in sugar, and then remove the peels.

Bananas coated in sugar.

Bananas coated in sugar.

Place the sugared bananas on a rack over foil, and brulee them with a torch until they are golden brown.

Sugared bananas over foil.

Sugared bananas over foil.

Torching the bananas, with a helper.

Torching the bananas, with a helper.

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Golden brown bananas.

Golden brown bananas.

At this point, all of the components of your dessert are ready. For plating, put the caramel sauce in a squeeze bottle and squirt it in a decorative pattern on the plate. Top the sauce with four banana pieces, layered like Lincoln logs in two layers.

Caramel with bananas.

Caramel with bananas.

Add a scoop of ice cream (I used store-bought vanilla, or you could use Alton’s vanilla ice cream recipe), and top with a doodad.

Finished banana split.

Finished banana split.

12-18-2014 032 We ate these banana splits as dessert after a regular weeknight dinner, and the dessert definitely stole the show. The great things about this dish are the contrasting textures and temperatures. While the caramel sauce is smooth, sweet, and smokey, the bananas are warm, moist, and coated with a crunchy shellac. In addition to the bananas, you have cold ice cream and a crunchy doodad. This is a great dessert, and I would definitely make it again. The resulting presentation is impressive, especially given the effort put in. I can see why my dad wanted to make this when he originally watched the episode. It is a great dessert.