The roadmap to a good brittle or chikki really depends on how good a caramel maker you are. If you pride yourself on your caramel skills, your brittles and honeycombs will turn out brilliant, but if you’re not into caramel, I think it’s a game changer.
Caramel has a tendency to be intimidating, and I get that. I’ve been there too, trying different methods, stir, then no stir, watch out for bits of colour, is it hopefully at the right temperature—a lot of factors come into play and will annoy the amateur caramel maker, but as is the case with most things, practice makes perfect, and today when I’m done with you, you will never turn away from caramel, but rather take it on happily as a personal challenge every single time.
I feel like I’ve said this countless times before, but the enemy of our caramel is crystallisation and the size of our sugar crystals. I add a few drops of lime juice to any caramel I make to avoid crystallisation right from the start. I also make sure to add 2-3 tablespoons of water to my sugar to aid the dissolving of the sugar. Do i blitz my sugar and then make caramel? Hells no. I aint got no time for that.
Does adding the water to the sugar affect the final caramel? No, It doesn’t matter, because by the time the caramel reaches the deep amber colour you want, there will hardly be any drops of water left in the caramel. Things are so hot in your pan that water is rapidly evaporating, so while you must always be careful when playing with sugar, always remind yourself to live a little and make some caramel from scratch.
Once you have a good caramel down, a brittle or chikki is a simple matter of adding nuts and other add-ins, then turning it out onto a lined tray, foiled tray, or a greased surface and letting it cool, for 30 minutes at least. The amount of fat added to your caramel is responsible for the richness and also the bendiness of the brittle, so say if I were to remove the soda or butter from a brittle recipe I find anywhere on an international website, I’d be left with a harder set chikki than a chewier toffee kind of chikki, so really I can customise a recipe to exactly what I’m looking for. If you do have a candy thermometer at home, 300F or between 146 and 148 degrees C is the temperature that you’re looking to bring your caramel to before everything else is added in. I do throw in some advice here—a caramel is so hot that the mixture continues to cook even as you’re adding things in, so say if you were working without a thermometer, my advice to you would be to reach a medium caramel and start adding your stir-ins for the brittle, another minute or two of stirring, things are hot and ready to be turned out.
THE BASIC RECIPE:
Lime juice a few drops
Water 2-3 tbsp
The next day while the pies are still refrigerating, start on the caramel sauce. In a heavy saucepan, combine together the sugar, few drops of lime juice and three tablespoons of water. Stir this over medium high heat to help the sugar dissolve evenly. The reason we add the acid in is to not let the sugar crystallise. Once the sugar has come up to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it bubble. Swirl the pan every now and then. Once the sugar starts to turn golden around the edges, swirl again to evenly distribute the colour and continue cooking till the caramel. Now say you don’t have a digital thermometer, watch the colour. It first turns a light golden, then the golden colour begins to deepen and starts to inch closer to an amber, then a deep dark amber. It is at the exact deep amber stage that you will add your stir-ins to the pot. To those who own a digital thermometer add things in at 146-147 and stir till 148-149 degrees celsius, for like a minute or two. This is 300F.
At this stage, you add one of the two stir-in options to make the brittle you’re after. The first makes my late Nani’s house-favourite Poppy seed and dry fruit chikki, and the other makes an ultra-moderne Salted Peanut and Cacao nib brittle. The cacao nibs I am using are from All Things chocolates, who according to me have some of the best chocolate products available right now. These cacao nibs and the cocoa powder (natural cocoa powder, just in case you want to make some red velvet cake) are some of the best I’ve tried in the market.
For the poppy seed and dry fruit chikki, you will have to add 1 tbsp ghee, 150g chopped dried fruits, ideally a mix of cashews, almonds, pistachios, 50g poppy seeds, 50g grated dry coconut and 1 tsp of freshly pounded cardamom powder.
For the salted peanut and cacao nib version, add 112g of salted ready-to-eat peanuts, 50g butter, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract and 45g of cacao nibs and 3/4 tsp baking soda
Stir all the ingredients together, then turn it out using an oiled spatula onto a well-greased marble or kitchen counter, or on a greased piece of baking paper or a greased piece of aluminium foil and roll it out, or press it down to flatten it out, working quickly otherwise it’ll start to cool. After you’ve flattened it out enough, let the brittle chill for a minimum of 30 minutes at least before smashing it into bits and filling boxes to give friends this Christmas.