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December 18, 2010

Salted Nut Brickle
Posted by Teresa at 12:24 AM * 72 comments

less than a stick of butter
quite a lot of sugar
salt in a shaker
powdered cinnamon
blanched almonds and/or hazelnuts, unblanched walnuts and/or pecans, a pound or more total
non-stick cooking spray
aluminum foil

Have all your ingredients sitting close to hand, with jar lids off and packages already opened.

Roll out a generous sheet of aluminum foil, and either use it to line a large flat cookie sheet or cake pan, or just fold up 0.75” edges all the way around it and tuck them up at the corners as you would a fitted sheet. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray, then take a salt shaker and sprinkle the sheet evenly with salt. Coarser salt is yummy and looks nice, but plain table salt will do just fine.

Turn your fire to medium high. Melt half to two-thirds of a stick of butter in your favorite wok, skillet, or saucepan. Start adding sugar. Add as much sugar as the butter will take up, stirring all the while with a high-temperature scraper or a big wooden spoon.

Keep stirring. Add some salt. Stir it in, then extract a bit of the sugar-and-salt mixture and taste it to see if it needs a bit more salt. It probably does. Keep stirring.

When the sugar first starts to melt, it will probably throw off some of the melted butter. Add more sugar—as much as it will take up—and keep stirring. Adjust the salt. Throw in some cinnamon. Don’t add any more sugar after this point.

When the mixture in the pan is starting to liquefy and caramelize, consider starting to add nuts. You want to start with the ones that take longest to toast, and finish with the ones that toast most quickly. In the overall scheme of nuts, I believe the order is Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pecans, and piñon nuts or pignolia. Stir as you add them. Adjust the salt. Add a good solid shake of ground cinnamon. Stir faster.

You are now approaching the crisis. There will come a moment when the sugar and butter mixture will suddenly become markedly looser and more liquid. If all goes well, this should happen right around the time the mixture starts browning much more rapidly, and the nuts start to smell toasted. (Don’t wait until they reach the limits of aesthetic toasting, as they’ll continue to cook for some little while in the hot candy.) Swiftly mix in your last additions of salt and cinnamon before or as you reach this point.

When the moment comes, turn the fire off and immediately turn out the bubbling candy mixture onto the greased and salted sheet. Scrape the pan out fast-fast-fast, throw it into the sink, and start water running into it. Don’t take more than a few seconds. Get back to the candy and do your best to spread out the nuts evenly while you’re sprinkling more salt on top of it. The salt takes precedence. The candy will very shortly cease to be liquid. If the nuts are unevenly distributed, oh well.

Once the candy has become a solid, set it somewhere to cool. I usually set mine down in the bottom of the (dry) bathtub. Let it sit until it’s cool, then take a sturdy implement and break it into pieces. Chips will fly, so sweep up immediately afterward. Pack it into the traditional airtight container.

Notes: if you chop this candy into coarse crumbs, you’ll have the same stuff confectioners use to coat truffles and other chocolates.

If you need a greater quantity of candy than one batch provides, it’s better to make two batches of the prescribed size than to try to make one extra-large batch. The physics will be wrong, and your wodge of cooking sugar will neither be nominally spherical nor of uniform density.

Cooking with Light (recipe index)
Comments on Salted Nut Brickle:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 01:32 AM:

Bart, I have no sense of time when I'm cooking this. How long does a batch of it take?

#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 01:47 AM:

Doesn't the shaker hurt your teeth?

#3 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 02:03 AM:

Just from a love of process, I want to make this. Sadly, no one in my family likes peanut brickle, and everyone in my family will die if I give them tree-nut brickle. Maybe I can find a deserving orphan...

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 02:37 AM:

Oh! I'd forgotten about candy due to breadmaker madness. I got this peanut brittle recipe from a GE Microwave cookbook, and it works like a charm. I've got an electric range whose heat is less controllable than a gas one would be.

#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 02:42 AM:

Would putting a piece of plastic wrap across the top help with the flying-bits problem while you're hammering it?

#6 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 02:45 AM:

This recipe/procedure/adventure write-up makes me want to start making candy.

(I have to do Christmas cookies first. Sand tarts ftw.)

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 03:04 AM:

The traditional chips-flying solution is a tea towel over the top before the beating starts.

I may have to try this. As if we don't have enough sweets around the house with the cookies, cake for my dad's birthday tomorrow, stollen, chocolate, and a husband who equates food with love.

#8 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 03:28 AM:

I once tried to describe to someone how to make butterscotch candy. When I got to the point of "and you keep stirring and stirring and then suddenly ... it turns" and he had this look of incomprehension on his face -- well, there was nothing else for it at that point but to grab a pan and demonstrate.

#9 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 07:16 AM:

I was wondering all the way through why you don't use a bit of golden syrup in it, and then I remembered it's because they don't have golden syrup in the US.

If you have golden syrup, or honey (but not maple syrup or cane syrup) and you add about a tablespoon of it to the butter as you start melting, the sugar will absorb more easily and also the whole thing will caramelise more smoothly and that crisis point you're describing will have a wider window of temperature, which for something like this translates as time.

The way I understand the chemistry of this is that the thing is that you're melting the sugar to get rid of the wrong kind of crystal, and then cooking it so it will form the right kind of crystal, the caramel. Honey and golden syrup already contain the caramel crystal, so they catalyse the rest of the sugar to do this without burning. This also works for fudge, and that kind of thing.

This is what golden syrup is for. It's why it exists. The reason it's better than honey is that honey has a taste, and if you use honey you'll have a honey overtone, which sometimes isn't ideal.

Oh, and nut brittle aside, which I should have worked out years before I did. There's no law saying you can't only use the nuts you like. You can do it with only hazelnuts and pecans and walnuts and it comes out fine.

#10 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 08:06 AM:

I have golden syrup! And almonds from last week's market. I shall try this today.

#11 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 09:51 AM:

at one point these instructions have you tasting the mixture while it's hot. Be careful. Hot sugar mixtures can hold more heat than they look like they are holding. I burned my finger once when I was younger trying to taste a pot of hot sugary stuff.

#12 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 10:27 AM:

I got my peanut brittle recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (from memory, but there's not much to mis-remember here):

Melt one cup of sugar over medium-low heat, stirring fairly constantly.
When it's a nice golden-brown liquid, stir in one cup of salted peanuts.
Pour out onto a lightly-buttered cookie sheet and let cool.

I learned the hard way that you have to spread it out as you pour, because it solidifies very quickly once it comes off the heat. The first time I made this, I wound up with a rather thick lump because I assumed it would spread out on the cookie sheet by itself. Not so much, no.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 10:50 AM:

I seem to remember that my mother made peener brickle one year. And never again. (She made candied nuts occasionally, though. Not quite as complicated, but you still have to get them separated before they cool. These days, you could probably warm the lumps up in the microwave and try again.)

#14 ::: Bart ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 11:01 AM:

How long does it take? 10-15 minutes, if I remember correctly. If I had remembered whatever you were singing when you did this on the island, I could be more precise. (I still marvel at how deliriously happy you were that night, even before you pinned Uncle Jim's arm behind his back.)

#15 ::: barry ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 01:15 PM:

I haven't seen it in a while but I have seen Lyle's Golden Syrup in supermarkets here in the USA. It has one of the great graphic images to appear on any foodstuff - a lion carcass (which I presume is rotting)surrounded by bees hovering above it with the caption IIRC "Out of the strong came forth sweet"

#16 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Going entirely by Wikipedia's description of how golden syrup is made, I'd venture to guess that light corn syrup would be a workable substitute for cooks in (USA - Louisiana).

#17 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Erik, #11: Very good point. Hot liquid sugar mixtures are (effectively) edible napalm!

#18 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 03:00 PM:

If I were to use only nuts I like, it would be a caramel candy with no nuts at all.

#19 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 03:38 PM:

barry @ 15

I believe the can also has the Biblibal reference for that phrase, which is (he googles) Judges 14.14. It's a riddle told by Samson (for reasons I no longer recall.)

(Like Bertie Wooster, I won a prize for scriptural knowledge when at school. Second prize; but still)

I feel as though there ought somewhere to be a law prohibiting the use of scripture in advertising.

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 04:40 PM:

Golden syrup is available at a number of places in the US.

Cost Plus World Market is one chain that carries it (

For those people within driving distance of Atlanta, I recommend Taste of Britain in Norcross ( as the source.

#21 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 04:42 PM:

Jo Walton #9, Zack #16:

Yes, for this purpose the US equivalent is light corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup (or, for people who've read too much Michael Pollan, agave syrup) is closer to golden syrup, since golden syrup has equal quantities glucose and fructose, but that's not going to matter here.

The quantities wouldn't translate exactly, since golden syrup is sugar dissolved in just enough glucose/fructose syrup to stop it crystallizing. That is, you would need less corn syrup than golden syrup.

#22 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 04:54 PM:

The Exploratorium has a nice page on candy and crystallization.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 08:03 PM:

Lee, Abi, the reason I don't use films or fabrics over it is that the force required to break it is great enough that I'd tear the plastic, shorten the life of the tea towel, and embed bits of both in the candy.

Madeleine @3, you're allowed to leave the nuts out altogether. I've been contemplating a version based on the rendered fat from thickly-sliced bacon, with the coarsely-chopped crisp bacon bits going in a bit later than nuts would. I'd adjust the salt, of course. And I'd have to get all the little solid bits out of the fat before making it, as they'd burn at the temperatures involved.

Heather Rose Jones @8: Sugar is weird and technical and fun, especially the state changes. One of these days I should set up a big clock next to the stove and have Patrick take a video of this recipe. Like your butterscotch, it's easier to demonstrate than explain.

Jo @9, it's not a crystalline candy at all. I believe it's technically an amorphous solid, like glass. A spoonful of corn syrup or golden syrup might be a good idea in the contemplated bacon variant, to replace the small amount of water present in butter, but I don't think it would do much to slow down the final stage. What corn syrup and its kin are good for is smoothing out the critical stages of candy recipes built around water content and crystallization rates.

My recipe is essentially waterless. The small amount of water in the butter evaporates early on. The remaining melted butter adds flavor, makes the sugar more mobile, and helps distribute the heat throughout the mass, but the liquidity is produced by the sugar melting rather than dissolving. As you've probably noticed when making flan, sugar starts caramelizing at a temperature below its melting point. Even if you could slow down the final sugar liquefaction, if the temperature of the mixture in the pan is above the caramelization point, the sugar and nuts are still going to be browning. That process only stops when you pour out the candy and its temperature drops, so fast is good.

This is why there's a note about making two batches rather than a doubled batch if you want more candy. Just increasing the butter to one whole stick is enough to make the recipe much more troublesome, because the additional mass makes it difficult to get the whole thing to melt and liquefy fast enough.

Intro to Confectionery ought to count as a lab science.

While double-checking my sugar chemistry, I was delighted to discover that the manufacturers of boiled sweets first cook their mixture under pressure so they can get the sugar to dissolve in a smaller quantity of water, thus reducing the amount they have to boil off later, and finish cooking it in a vacuum cooker, so they can get the water out without caramelizing the sugar.

I've been saying for years that I want a vacuum cooker for exactly that reason: so I can boil down mixtures without browning them and/or changing their flavors. I'll bet you anything that commercial jam and jelly manufacturers are using vacuum cookers.

Barring a major breakthrough in longevity research, I'm never going to get to cook in a zero-gee space station with a supply of hard vacuum on tap. It's a terrible waste of all sorts of weird ideas.

Erik @11, I just drop a dab of it onto the stovetop and taste it when it's had a moment to cool. That's early on. By the time it's truly liquid, the seasoning had better be correct, because I don't have time to test and change it.

Bart @14: Thank you. Now I know: ten to fifteen minutes, plus cooling time.

Wasn't that the night we played your "flounce" variant of Thing? The improvisations were a joy to watch. I wish I had a videotape of the speech that got me killed. It was an honor.

Now if only I could remember why I had Uncle Jim's arm pinned behind his back ... aside from the obvious explanation, which is that he let me. I'm sure he knows half a dozen ways to get out of that hold, only some of which maim the person doing it.

Thomas @22: Thanks. That's a good page on sugar. I'll swap you for this site that's about its behavior:

#24 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 08:28 PM:

David, #18: I don't see where that's a problem... (aka "sometimes you feel like a nut, other times you don't")

pgbb, #19: Sadly, it's impossible to legislate tastefulness. And I think there would be Constitutional issues in America as well.

#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 08:49 PM:

TNH @23: I've been contemplating a version based on the rendered fat from thickly-sliced bacon, with the coarsely-chopped crisp bacon bits going in a bit later than nuts would.

Y'know that mouth-watering-so-much-he-gargles noise that Homer Simpson sometimes makes?

#26 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 08:50 PM:

Bart @14 I can't help but feel that knowing what song is critical to recreating the magic.

#27 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Teresa: I'm never going to get to cook in a zero-gee space station with a supply of hard vacuum on tap.

I'm pretty sure that if such practices become common in space stations, it will lead to polluting their orbital zone. (Note that orbiting litter is already a significant problem!) And that's assuming your stationmaster doesn't mind you throwing away the station's air and water....

#28 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 09:39 PM:

Mary Aileen @12: Shouldn't butter figure in there somewhere?

#29 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 09:44 PM:

From this week's NY Times food section:

Saltine Cracker Brickle and

Apples with Candied Bacon à la Mode (tag line: "Finally, a Dessert With Some Meat in It").

#30 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 10:27 PM:

Nicole (28): No, the only butter is greasing the cookie sheet that the peanut brittle cools on. The brittle itself really is just sugar and peanuts.

I made another batch this evening; it's very good!

In my high school advanced chemistry class, the last class period before Christmas break we made peanut brittle in (brand-new, guaranteed clean) beakers over bunsen burners. That did use butter. My lab partner and I did something wrong--probably didn't stir enough--and our batch was more like peanut chewy* than peanut brittle, but it still tasted yummy.

*Sort of like taffy, only much, much chewier. What's that candy that you chew and chew and chew and chew? Like that.

#31 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 10:53 PM:

I may have to try this recipe. I made my first batch of toffee tonight, so if it turns out well, some sort of nut brittle is a logical next step. (I added too much water, but I think I managed to compensate.) If nothing else, I now have a much more visceral understanding of the various changes that occur as the sugar/butter mixture is heated.

I find the discussion of the interactions between water and various sugars fascinating, although I have too little brain to make much comment right now. I will say that I think my mom's peanut brittle recipe called for corn syrup, because she didn't use it for much else. If there was a Confectionery 101 class, I would surely take it.

As a final note, I find the brickle/brittle variation fascinating. Is it regional? I've always heard it as "brittle" in the Cincinnati area. Mom grew up mostly in the South (Louisiana and Arkansas), but her family was originally from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

#32 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 11:01 PM:

As a final note, I find the brickle/brittle variation fascinating. Is it regional? I've always heard it as "brittle" in the Cincinnati area. Mom grew up mostly in the South (Louisiana and Arkansas), but her family was originally from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

In my (unreliable and peculiar) imagination, it's XX Brittle if it's thin and brittle enough to break easily, and XX Brickle if it's bricklike enough that you have to whack it with something.

This should not be taken as definitive by anyone but me.

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 11:15 PM:

Saltine Cracker Brickle: also, for some reason, called 'toffee'. It's delicious.

#34 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2010, 12:04 AM:

Oh, I've made the bacon brittle. It's fine. The only problem: bacon burns at a lower temperature than the candy syrup reaches. So you should cook the bacon to a lower brownness than you like, and dump it in at the last minute. (I suppose the same is true of nuts.)

Red pepper also burns at that temperature, so spice it up even later.

Both times I've made the recipe, substituting bacon fat for the butter, it came out distinctly greasy. I don't know what the deal is, but I recommend reducing it.

#35 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2010, 04:05 AM:

David @27

I'm guessing that the hard vacuum will be a carefully supplied product, where a clean container is pumped to a good vacuum before the residual gas is vented to space. At that point you can connect a could of hundred litres of nothingness to your cookpot and get a sudden pressure drop down to an effective nothing. And maybe you have some elastic diaphragm to keep the vaccuum-side of the container clean.

Now imagine the political screaming from those wishing to use vacuum who don't think nothingness is an environment.

#36 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Teresa @ 23

I've been contemplating a version based on the rendered fat from thickly-sliced bacon, with the coarsely-chopped crisp bacon bits going in a bit later than nuts would. I'd adjust the salt, of course. And I'd have to get all the little solid bits out of the fat before making it, as they'd burn at the temperatures involved.

Last year I went to a Bacon Party where one of the things served was bacon brittle just as you describe it. (Another novelty feature: bacon swizzle sticks for the signature drink, the Soused Sow -- spiral-wrap bacon around chopsticks then cook on a rack in the oven until crisp.)

#37 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2010, 04:07 PM:

One of these days, I've got to try a baconized Old Fashioned:

1. In mixing glass, stir 2 ounces bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup and bitters with ice.

2. Strain into chilled rocks glass filled with ice.

3. Garnish with orange twist

#38 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2010, 06:47 PM:

TNH @23: I've been saying for years that I want a vacuum cooker for exactly that reason: so I can boil down mixtures without browning them and/or changing their flavors. I'll bet you anything that commercial jam and jelly manufacturers are using vacuum cookers.

Huh. I wonder how difficult it would be to set up a rotovap-type water aspirator in a home kitchen.

WRT the first-linked Wikipic, the pylon in the middle is a fairly simple mechanical apparatus for clamping a round flask with a ground-glass joint onto the diagonal protrusion, lowering the flask into the heated water bath on the right, and spinning it at the desired speed. (The spinning provides some self-stirrng/swirling action. Even if the internal liquid's boiling point under reduced pressure is relatively low, the external water bath still needs to be heated, or the spinning round flask will acquire a coat of ice from evaporative cooling transfer.)

The glass assembly on the left consists of a cold trap on top and a removable collection flask on the bottom. That particular cold trap looks complicated because it has a separate coolant coil running through the middle-- one lab I worked in had a propylene glycol line piped in/out, but they can also use tap water-- but there are also simpler "cold finger" traps that are essentially deep wells that passively nest down inside, filled with Something Cold. (Dry ice/acetone was the usual standard; very occasionally, liquid nitrogen was hauled out for special occasions. Chilled saturated brine might work for home use.)

The stopcock to the side would normally have the vacuum hose connected to it, which could either connect to a water aspirator (for everyday use) or a milli-Torr hard vacuum pump (which would also call for the liquid nitrogen in the cold trap, and maybe even replacing the water bath with a high-heat oil bath depending on the solvent being removed).

...aha, it looks like lab suppliers are already nestling up to the molecular gastronomy crowd, so someone must've already tried this somewhere.

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2010, 07:07 PM:

For many years I despised peanut brittle (NY label), which turned up in many a Christmas stocking and Easter basket. Turned out my impression was set by cheap crappy brittle . . . the equivalent of $4.00 boxes of drugstore chocolates.

I'd like to try the good stuff someday.

#40 ::: kate s ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 04:18 AM:

Re Madeleine # 3 - When making my Microwave version of this with my 4-h'ers, we used Rice Krispies for the nut allergic child and drizzled melted chocolate on the top.

#41 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 02:36 PM:


First a note: I've played with vacuum and vacuum pumps in the lab at work, and fiddled with canning jars and the like, and have a basic knowledge of how the equipment works, but I have never used same in cooking. My suggestions are just those - never tried them. Hard vacuum is not as scary as it sounds (except when it surrounds your living quarters...) because down here on earth the air pressure around a container "filled" with hard vacuum would exert a force of only about 14.7 pounds per square inch. Not a lot. That said, follow all precautions that you feel necessary, wear safety goggles, insert standard disclaimer here, etc.

Vacuum pumps abound - those used for pumping down HVAC systems are especially available. Harbor Freight sells a new one for about $110, or only $20 or so if you have a supply of compressed air (air version of a sort of RotaVap per Julie L. @#38). The air or water powered sort would waste lots of either, though you're only running for ~15 minutes so not *too* much. Used vacuum pumps - if you can test them - are cheaper. Many vacuum pumps are used in "fancier" cars or diesel vehicles of all sorts to run vacuum brake systems and/or cruise control systems and can likely be had cheap on eBay or at an auto wrecker or similar. Also possible - find a friendly university chem lab and bring your own 3 gallon or so air tank (bigger is better here!), and have them "pump it down". You will probably have to modify the fittings on it as well - the air inlet valve will have to go (doesn't work well against vacuum) but the pressure relief port is probably fine. The friendly chem lab types can probably help out here, but a decent hardware store should have fittings that can replace something or other threaded into the tank. You'll also need a good on/off valve, not sure the standard one on an air tank will work well with vacuum - really just low air pressure going the wrong way. Won't get as good a vacuum in your pot, and you only really get one good use per pump-down, but it will reduce the air pressure in the cookpot by the volume ratio of the two containers, modified by how many volatiles boil off in the experimental foodstuff.

For the vacuum pot, get a regular pressure-cooker pot and finagle a fitting where the pressure relief valve goes that you can hook to your vacuum pump or "canned vacuum". A barbed fitting into stiff tubing held on with a hose clamp would be fine - just clean everything well and don't use any toxic sealants. Teflon plumbing tape is probably fine on any threads, just don't drop any inside the pot. Overheated teflon burns and stinks and is likely toxic. You may need to remove the pressure gage if the pot has one, and if you want you can replace it with a vacuum gage. Very common from auto supply places. The only trouble with a common pressure cooker is that you may end up sucking the seal ring into the pot. The types I have handled had a clamping lid that looks like it will hold the seal clamped well, but the used steam autoclave I helped turn into a 30psi pressure oven had a seal that was not clamped and would likely get sucked in by a vacuum. We considered making a vacuum oven out of another one, but never really needed it so didn't make one.

To protect any sort of pump, get a good stout vessel that stands up on its own that you can put inline between the pot and the pump, that has two fittings on the top. A canning jar is probably OK, but you'll want to wrap it in a heavy towel in case of implosion. You can make this setup by using hardware store fittings through holes punched in the flat lid for the canning jar, sealed with silicone sealer. One fitting - the inlet - should have a hose that drops down to near the bottom of the jar. The other - the outlet - stops right inside the jar or however far the fitting reaches when installed in the lid. Put some clean vacuum pump oil (the pump should have a type on it) or if an air-powered type use clean water in the jar to cover an inch or two of the inlet pipe that sticks down into the jar. Seal tight. Now you have a "bubble trap" that will require all the air and stuff you pull out of your cooking vessel to bubble through the oil or water, which should condense/trap any volatiles boiling off of your experiment - and keep it from gumming up your pump!

Have fun, I appreciate your entertaining (and yummy-sounding) recipes!

#42 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 02:40 PM:

Me @#41:

Oops, where I said "Rota-Vap" substitute "Water Aspirator" - I skimmed Julie L.'s comment #38 rather than reading for comprehension. My bad. Water aspirators, or so I am told, are not much in favor in labs these days because they waste water and if the various traps inline to the aspirator are not well maintained/paid attention to you get some "stuff" from your reaction getting run down the drain that the EPA would likely frown upon. I have not worked with one, so YMMV.

#43 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 03:32 PM:


Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline pointed out these kitchen gadgets. You can get a rota-vap for about $9500. For a bit less, there was a gadget mentioned on Boingbong some years ago, which Teresa probably remembers: Gastrovac for a mere $3800.

#44 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 06:23 PM:

I would just like to second the cautions about hot sugar being kitchen napalm. I can show you burn scars (on my HANDS, Serge). Wear protective gear!

#45 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 06:46 PM:

T's account sounds very much like the drama that would ensue when the fudge1 was being made in our house. Having since had some practice with it on my own, it's a somewhat less finicky process than my dad made it out to be, but if you get it wrong, well: if you don't cook it long enough, it's a case of, "Sigh. Okay back onto the fire you go for another round of cooking-then-cooling." If you cook it too long, it's a case of, "Hey, can you run out to the woodshop and grab a mallet and the wood chisel, please?"

14 squares unsweetened Baker's chocolate
4 cups sugar
4/3 cup whole milk
1 TBSP butter
1 tsp vanilla

Heat/cook milk, choc, & sugar to rubber-ball (not soft-ball, not hard-ball) stage. Set pan in cold bath to cool for ten minutes, drop in butter and vanilla while it's cooling.

When the bottom of the pan is still warm to the touch, but not too hot to hold, take the pan out and start stirring.

This is where the drama starts, because you have to keep stirring until you're finished. (Which can be a challenge because a big batch will tire your arm pretty quickly. Trading off stirrers requires precise timing and, of course, drama.) If you pause (or let any water in the pan while it's cooling—or hold your mouth wrong), It Will Sugar2.

You stir until what has been a glossy semi-liquid starts to lose its gloss, and begins to stiffen. Then you start paying close attention. When It's Time, you pour.

If you've done everything right, and are feeling brave, you pour it out onto a sheet of foil laid out flat on the counter. If you've hit the consistency/timing right, it'll pile up in a thick, graceful, ribbon. If not, it'll probably come out in one sort of lump or other. As long as it hasn't gone rock solid, it still eats the same.

2 Which will, of course precipitate the Heat Death of the Universe. Or something. Never did figure out what.

3 If you haven't cooked it long enough, it won't solidify, hence the bravery in laying the foil sheet out flat. You stand the chance of it running off onto the floor. Cheats4 and cowards put the foil on a cookie sheet or in shallow pan.

4 Cheaters can also use candy thermometers to guage doneness, but where's the sport in that?

#46 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 06:52 PM:

Jo Walton @9: golden syrup

I seem to recall saving a failed batch of fudge using Karo syrup that probably invokes this kind of physics. Sticks in my mind that one of the participants was T's sister Erika...?

I, of course, was in hysterics, because I Was Making Fudge! and I Did It Rong! While trying to show off, of course (which is the most obvious summoning spell for that sort of disaster). If memory serves, after all was said and done, we actually turned out a perfectly workmanlike batch of fudge.

#47 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 07:10 PM:

me @45: Cheats and cowards

I should point out that I inferred this overly judgemental view based on the sturm und drang attendent on the fudgemaking process in our house, which in turn derived from an entirely superstitious understanding of the physics involved. (And, possibly, from my father having learned it in the WWII-era Army, where there was probably a bit of machismo in the mix, as well.)

#48 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Jacque #47: Macho fudge-making? Oh my, the images that conjures!

#49 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2010, 10:39 PM:


Wow. That is some intense fudge making. For me, it's much more relaxing. Of course, I also use the recipe on the jar of marshmallow creme, which as I recall is pretty well foolproof. Tomorrow we find out if I remember that correctly (said fudge is currently cooling in the fridge, and I don't want to eat that much sugar this late at night).

In other candy making news, the toffee I made two nights ago turned out to be quite acceptable for a first batch. Next time, I will remember to read the recipe correctly, and not use quite so many walnuts (a lot fell off when I broke the toffee into pieces).

#50 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 12:55 PM:

OK, what kind of idiot pokes the melted sugar with her fingertip to see if it is cool enough to taste for salt content? I shouldn't be allowed alone in the kitchen.

*ow ow ow*

#51 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 01:36 PM:

Sylvia (50): Console yourself with the thought that fingers are much less sensitive than tongues. If you'd tasted the hot sugar without testing it first, you'd really have hurt yourself!

#52 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 01:42 PM:

cajunfj40 @42: Water aspirators, or so I am told, are not much in favor in labs these days because they waste water and if the various traps inline to the aspirator are not well maintained/paid attention to you get some "stuff" from your reaction getting run down the drain that the EPA would likely frown upon.

This is very true; the logical bridge that I forgot to post in the first place was that since water aspirators aren't much used for research rotovaps anymore, perhaps they'd now be cheaper for kitchen use? (Though on reflection, used lab surplus aspirators probably wouldn't be ideal for the kitchen either; they may now fall into that category of equipment that's sufficiently semi-obsolete to support their prices for people who are desperate to buy them. It's still possible to find cassette tapes and floppy disks in stores, but they ain't cheap.)

Either way, a water aspirator seems like the easiest reduced-pressure source to set up at home, esp. a simple non-mechanical sink aspirator like the ones typically used for lab filtration-- the rotovap-strength water aspirators I used were largish motorized devices in their own right, churning around a ~5-liter tank of water.

*headdesk* Oh, the other semi-useful thing I'd originally meant to post but forgot: Harold McGee has a fairly detailed scientific description of caramelization in On Food and Cooking-- I can't find either of my copies at the moment and there are substantial differences between the 1st/2nd editions of the book, but it's a sufficiently important concept that it should be in both of them. It starts by breaking apart individual sucrose molecules into its two components, glucose and fructose, and then the heat starts to scramble them around into reacting with each other to form other different stuff.

#53 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 04:20 PM:

Jacque @45 - "If you pause (or let any water in the pan while it's cooling—or hold your mouth wrong), It Will Sugar....Which will, of course precipitate the Heat Death of the Universe. Or something. Never did figure out what."

Hot fudge sauce, that's what! That's what we always used sugared fudge for, sometimes making it that way deliberately.

#54 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Mary Aileen @51: that's a really good point. I only have a small blister on my finger (I had to move to a room with brighter lighting to be able to show my wounds to anyone else!) so really I got off lightly.

Still, very silly of me not to think it through.

On the bright side, the peanuts are only slightly over-cooked and the brittle is tasty and just a tiny bit sticky.

#55 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 06:20 PM:

I often test-feel above a food or suspect implement, slowly closing in from a couple of inches to a quarter-inch or so before actually touching. I find that steam and/or radiant heat give me plenty of warning....

#56 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 07:25 PM:

Speaking of radiant heat, the light bulb in a refrigerator is an interesting object: it feels hot until you touch it.

#57 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 07:44 PM:

re fudge 'sugaring', Alton Brown did a whole program on it and Shirley Corriher showed how to fix it with corn syrup and explained the chemistry of it.

#58 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:10 AM:

Harold McGee on microwave nut brittle

[URL edited by JDM. If I guessed wrong, gaukler, please say so.]

#59 ::: Cally Soukup suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:15 AM:

The link provided in 58 doesn't do what it says.

#60 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:20 AM:

I think that's not spam, but an occasional poster who forgot to change the "" in the example tag to where it should be pointing.

#61 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:21 AM:

Actually, I suspect a munged url; given the name of the url it's going to (url dot com), this seems likely.

#62 ::: Cally Soukup stands corrected ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Then again, the poster has a history here; it's probably just a malformed URL. Sorry about that, gaukler!

#63 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 02:48 AM:

The link in #58 goes to a recipe which is nearly identical to the one I linked to in #4.

#64 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:15 PM:

Debbie @53: Hot fudge sauce, that's what!

Well, yes, we know that now. :)

I went through a "fudge period" where I'd make a little tiny batch of fudge every day (1/8 quantities for recipe above). Additionally, I think I have some grasp of the physics of the process which my dad didn't have. As a result, I actually developed a reasonably good feel for the process, and will often make variants to serve different functions—such as topping ice cream.

Fudge generally happened in our house, at most, maybe twice a year. It was an interesting revelation that a lot of the mystery and drama derived from simple lack of familiarity.

Which was actually a good Life Lesson: if something seems complicated and scary so you don't do it very often, it continues to be complicated and scary.

If, however, you do it frequently and pay attention, it becomes just another skill that's either rusty or honed.

Now if I could just bring that insight to bear on other things—like, say, job-hunting.

#65 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 12:47 PM:

Thanks for fixing the link. Someday I'll manage to get the correct HTML.

#66 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 11:17 PM:

One of my co-workers brought us peanut brittle today. From the size of the pieces, it seems to have been home-made. (Also delicious!) I gat a certain amount of amusement from explaining to the guys in the next cube that it's mostly sugar and peanuts, and the sugar is cooked at a lot higher temperature than they think.

#67 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2010, 02:35 PM:

#52, #42 et preq.: I grew up in drought-ridden Southern California. I went to college in New York, in the late nineties. At that point, my university's chemistry department still used sink aspirators for vacuum in all undergraduate labs. I was completely horrified at the waste of water, but was eventually convinced that New York did not have the drought problem. My inner environmentalist still shivers a little, though. (Couldn't they at least have used greywater?)

Later, I was at a different university, whose chemistry department was under 24/7 monitoring by the EPA and the state water board because of a few too many incidents where chlorinated hydrocarbons turned up in their waste water; the scuttlebutt was, water aspirators used for rotovapping of solutions in carbon tet were the prime cause. (Not that there's really any good way to dispose of used carbon tet.)

I recall Chad Orzel doing a series of posts on lab-grade vacuum pumps, categorized as noisy, dirty, both, or neither.

#68 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 04:48 AM:

And don't forget (ObSF) the love, every third stir.


#69 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2011, 09:23 PM:

David DeLaney #68: But I like having a beard! ;-)

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#71 ::: Stefan Jones suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2014, 12:54 AM:

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#72 ::: Mary Aileen sees old spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:38 AM:

#70 is undeleted spam

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