It’s July 13th, and like most of my enchanted generation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the magical world. That is, Harry Potter. I wasn’t one of those kids who sunk into mini-depression when their 11th birthdays were wholly owl-free, but I wished I had gotten a letter cordially inviting me to witch-dom. In retrospect, it only would have been exciting to get a letter if I were muggle-born. If my parents and siblings and cousins and great uncles were all wizards and witches, an owl would have been humdrum on a scale of 1 to The Boy Who Lived.
But sometimes baking makes me feel like a muggle-born with a Hogwarts letter. Growing up, sugar did all the ordinary things. It teaspooned sweetness into tea, sprinkled over ripe strawberries, turned my tongue blue and my lips green, and fulfilled its duties in cakes, cookies, brownies, muffins, and fruit loops.
Then—not exactly at age 11, but I’m flexible—sugar started doing magic for me.
(I’m totally not crazy for thinking that sugar is comparable to Harry Potter. As Gesine Bullock-Prado writes in her sugar manifesto Sugarbaby, “Harry Potter wouldn’t be bubkes without the right wand, and so it goes with the sugar wizard and the thermometer.”)
I can’t say I’d pass my Transfiguration O.W.L, and certainly not my N.E.W.T., but I’ve learned how to transform my favorite mashup of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Heated to the soft-ball stage (235-240 degrees F), sugar turns into smooth, dense fudge. Somewhere between the soft ball and the hard-ball stages, airy marshmallow is born. Then, skipping through a whole lot of sugar theory, the hard-crack stage (300-310 degrees F) brings us to brittle!
I love brittle. Brittle totally degrades all of my self-control. I swear sugar and butter react to form some kind of inhibitor that blocks off some impulse control region in my frontal lobe. But I love ‘em anyway.
As usual, I decided to use Not So Humble Pie’s brittle recipe to get started. Two wonderful friends, who swear they are responsible for kitchen disasters, came over to help out. They were totally proven wrong. At first we were worried because the brittle seemed to take ages to get to 335 degrees, but I’m sure there’s some adage that says the best things in life (brittle) take forever (an hour and a half?).
The only change we made was to use a combination of unsalted peanuts and cashews. We also couldn’t find fleur de sel, so we used regular sea salt. It tasted fine, but bigger grains probably would have been prettier.
We were invited to dinner at my Aunt Karyn, Uncle Charlie, and cousin Marissa’s apartment, so I brought the brittle for dessert, and Marissa took some beautiful pictures for me: