project wedding dessert bar: part 11 (cashew bacon brittle)
Until the wedding, I had never made a brittle that wasn’t chock full of peanuts. I also had never been married, and had never had such beautiful signage for my dessert bar designed and made by my dear peanut-allergic friend CB of Darts Meet Heart.
So when I saw Irvin’s bacon peanut brittle pictures on Eat the Love, and subsequently became obsessed with it despite not being a bacon freak, I knew I had to find a way to include it in the dessert bar without causing CB’s cheeks to puff up.
Luckily, CB gets along just fine with cashews, and after a quick Twitter affirmation from Irvin that yes, cashews should substitute just fine, I proceeded to pull out cashews, bacon and sugar. Little did I know how much trouble the sugar would later cause me.
But diced up a heck of a lot of bacon, refilling my cutting board with uncut strips of fatty pork about 6 times.
Then I fried the bacon until super crispy, but not burnt.
Getting the bacon crisp initially took much more time than I thought, so I quickened the process by draining the bacon fat from the pan a few times.
Per usual, I strained the bacon while removing it from the pan, and scooped it atop paper towels to absorb the excess fat. Rinse and repeat for the several remaining batches.
In retrospect, this bacon-crisping process would have been much easier, faster and cleaner in the oven, given that I was making enough for wedding full of guests.
Bacon aside, it became cashew time.
I opened the bags of cashew pieces and chopped them up a little more until they were about the same size as the bacon.
I toasted up the cashews in the lingering layer of bacon grease until the nuts became lightly browned.
Same pan. Less mess is best, right? And “bacon-toasted cashews” just has a nice ring to it.
Once the cashews were done, I threw them into the same bowl as the bacon, and mixed everything up.
In anticipation of the hectic candy-making to be, I lined the baking sheets with parchment, and spread the bacon-cashew mix evenly across each sheet.
Brittle time! I started with the sugar-only recipe from Irvin. It didn’t work out for me.
Perhaps it was because I was making brittle as a stand-alone dessert for a crowd, not as a topping for another dessert. My pan was too small to distribute heat evenly. The amount of sugar was too great to melt evenly. Some sugar burned, other crystals clumped together in a hard mess, and others looked completely unscathed. Either way, brittle was not forming. So I scrapped that.
My return to a basic brittle recipe proved more successful.
I melted down lots of butter. And stirred in the sugar.
Then I cooked the butter and sugar together until the sugar crystals dissolved.
Once it started bubbling, I put in the candy thermometer. The usual, at least as far as great candy-making is concerned.
Finally, the sugar started caramelizing into a beautiful golden brown.
When it reached hard crack stage (300F), I quickly stirred in the baking soda, and immediately poured the mixture over the cashews and bacon already in the pan.
In some pans, I had sprinkled cashews and bacon past the point where the brittle poured out. Unwilling to sacrifice those delicious bits and pieces, I used a spatula to quickly move any loose pieces into the brittle before it hardened too much. Where there were half-exposed pieces along the edges, I folded the parchment edges over a bit (using an oven mitt) to push the pieces into the brittle until they stuck.
As with any candy-making, it’s always prudent to throw dirty dishes into some hot water to assist the candy in melting off the pans. Easier cleanup? Check.
Once the brittle hardened, I turned it over for a smoother surface that was easier to break into shards without losing as many of the cashew and bacon bits. But you will lose some. Consider them special snacks for the candymaker.
Cashew Bacon Brittle
I was inspired by Irvin’s Bacon Peanut Brittle, but I ran into some major execution problems with the brittle portion of his recipe, perhaps due to the increased volume I wanted to produce. So I reassessed, revamped, and am confident my recipe below will work in your kitchen just as well as it worked in mine.
8 oz. (about 2 c.) raw cashew pieces, chopped
8 oz. thick cut bacon, diced in cubes to same size as cashews
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1 c. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone liner.
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy (I had to drain some of the fat off midway through, but it will depend on the bacon). Remove bacon to a plate lined with two paper towels to absorb excess fat, and taste the bacon to gauge its saltiness. Reserve bacon fat for another use, if you wish (I poured it into a glass jar, which I keep in the freezer for fun things like frying potatoes for brunch).
Leaving only a thin layer of bacon fat in the pan, add cashews to the pan. Roast cashews until golden and toasted. Watch carefully to ensure they don’t burn.
Pour toasted nuts onto the lined baking sheet, add bacon, and toss to mix. Spread evenly in one layer across the baking sheet.
In a large pot over medium-high heat, add sugar, water, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel turns light brown and candy thermometer reaches 300°F. Immediately remove from heat, and stir in the baking soda (careful! It will bubble a bit!).
Pour the caramel over the peanuts and bacon on the lined baking sheet. Using a heatproof spatula, quickly toss any loose pieces into the caramel. Spread the brittle into a thin, even layer across the baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle a small amount of sea salt across the brittle (make sure you tasted your bacon; some will be saltier than others, so this step may not be quite so desired).
Once the brittle has cooled and set completely (about 30 minutes to an hour; faster in the fridge), break into shards. I usually do this by stabbing it a few times with the point of a knife, but it can also be broken by hand. Do ahead: The brittle will keep for about a week at room temperature or a month in the fridge in an airtight container.