It's been five days since I turned 30. It'll be four days until I leave for Brussels. Seven to Christmas, nine to when I get to Berlin, thirteen until 2008, and sixteen until I'm all the way back here again, sitting at my desk, waiting for Ben to come home. I've got a lot of numbers on my mind these days.
The end of December: it's artificial, in a way, but it really does feel like the end of something. You start, inevitably, looking back over the year, over everything that happened or didn't happen to you. But you've also got a fair dose of excitement in you for what lies ahead. Yeah, sure, when January 3rd rolls around and you've worked off your hangover and you're back in your daily routine and the sky feels somewhat oppressively gray, you might think January is just as stinky as any year, but right now you're still thinking that January is 2008! And 2008 is something new! A clean slate! A fresh start! And that's pretty nifty.
I didn't even realize how big 2007 was for me until the past few days. I got a new job, a challenging, interesting, fulfilling job; I moved in with Ben, discovering that one can indeed grow more love in one's heart for a person at the same time as wanting to throw that person's every last pair of sneakers left haphazardly around the house entirely out the window; I left Manhattan - my sacred space - for Queens, realizing only that I should have done the move sooner; and I turned 30, with no gray hairs and plenty of laughs in sight.
So I didn't make apple butter or chutney or homemade Christmas cookies as I swore up and down (again) that I would. That's okay. I'm totally fine with it. Part of me thinks it's because I'm 30 now and I am actively learning to Just Let Some Things Go, but the other part of me knows that's total bollocks. The real reason why it's okay? Is because I made cashew brittle instead.
Brittle is the world's easiest gift. It requires one trip to the store (for cashews and corn syrup, since I assume you've got the rest - sugar, baking soda, kosher salt, and unsalted butter- lying around), about half an hour of your time, perhaps some pretty bags for packaging, and That. Is. It. Cool, no? Very cool. Especially when you drop little bags of it, tagged nicely, off for people who think candy-making is very complicated and difficult indeed, and who, in addition, think brittle is the best thing to nibble on in the whole wide world. (They would be right, you know - about the second part, I mean.)
The recipe comes from pastry goddess, Karen Demasco of Craft and Craftbar fame (remember that chocolate cupcake I told you about ages and ages ago?) and seems absolutely foolproof. You need to be careful around boiling sugar, yes, but a calm head, oven mitts, and long-handled spoons will help. You don't need a candy thermometer and though she calls for cooking spray, I just buttered parchment paper to line the baking sheets and it was perfect.
The one thing I found tricky was calibrating the flame under the pot. Too low and you'll evaporate too much moisture off while waiting for the boiling sugar to caramelize. Too high and the molten sugar will boil over, leaving you with a disaster to clean up. But don't let this discourage you - I just want to give you a heads up that you'll want the flame at about medium high and if you feel like it's taking the sugar too long to get golden-brown (Karen says it should take around 10 minutes), then turn up the heat, keeping a careful eye on the bubbling mass and its proximity to the edge of the pot. Yes? Yes!
The brittle is delectable - buttery and crispy-crunchy and sweet-salty all at once. The cashews are rich and yielding - far better than peanuts in this incarnation - and the shiny brittle snaps pleasingly. Try to stretch the brittle with the forks (as directed below) as much as you can, because that results in a thin, refined brittle that fairly shatters under your teeth. Thick is fine, too - I doubt you'd kick chunky brittle this good out of your bed - but I find it somewhat less alluring. To each his own, I think. Or hers.
Best of all, you'll feel all the satisfaction of making your own edible presents and yet none of the stress that usually comes accompanies it. Which feels like a gift in and of itself. Wouldn't you agree?
Makes 3.5 pounds
4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds salted, roasted cashews
1. Line two baking sheets with lightly buttered parchment paper or lightly coat the sheets with cooking spray. Do not use wax paper or plastic wrap.
2. Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and stir together. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel turns a medium-golden color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and then the salt. The mixture will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, stir in the nuts, then immediately pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheets, using the back of the spoon to spread the brittle out. Allow the brittle to cool for a few minutes, then, using the sides of two forks, pull and stretch the edges of the brittle to create a thinner candy, about 3/8-inch thick.
3. Once brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-sized pieces using the back of a knife or your hands. The brittle can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to two weeks.