Thursday, November 4, 2010

Brittle Based Bantering

Cold Sesame Noodle Inspired Brittle

I feel that one of the keys to great cooking is inspiration.  "It's the world around you, always." - Grant Achatz at his recent Harvard lecture. 

My cousin hit a significant milestone in her life and I wanted to play a small role in helping celebrate the achievement.  The event has a tradition of having families bring food that is representative of the presenter's roots.  I figure on candy because the preparation is straight forward and people love their sweets.  I decide to base it on familiar Asian flavors.  Here's one of the candies I prepared.

My mother used to make this amazing cold sesame noodle when I was a kid.  This was before the ubiquitous displays of prepared foods from varied ethnicities.  At school, I would commonly get a skeptical, "What is that?".  I took pride in turning a few friends the moment they tasted it.  When she made it, we didn't have sesame paste on hand, so she'd improvise with the ever present jar of peanut butter.  The other common adaptation was the use of linguine instead of the typical wide noodle.  I never gave it much thought until I started cooking a lot.  It's all about having a tool kit of fundamental techniques and preparations to make dishes that are your own.   

I recently made the acquaintance of Stella Parks, the CIA trained pastry chef behind the BraveTart blog, who is quite good at what she does.  I told her about this cold sesame noodle inspired brittle I made and she was very interested in the process.  Curiosity was piqued even more when she saw the Chef Andres interview with him evaluating the candy.  Here's a synopsis of how it was made.

Old fashioned peanut brittle base recipe:

I toasted some sesame seeds prior.  I used lightly salted dry roasted peanuts whole (16 oz jar ended worked out well).  I cut the salt on the nuts with the intention of adding it to the medium.  During the first stage, the sugar solution cooked for 20 minutes longer than expected because I was using a new burner and paranoid about the sugar burning.  This ended up thickening the solution and increased caramelization.  At the flavor adding step, I supplemented with 1/4 tsp of chili powder, pinch of cayenne (not too much because of the wide range of pallets), a few drops of sesame oil and sprinkled some kosher salt (probably 1/3 tsp).  Immediately after the candy was spread, I sprinkled on the toasted sesame seeds.

Taste, taste, taste...

...texture, texture, texture!

I told Chef Parks it wasn't anything Earth shattering.  She responded with:

Okay, whew! I was so interested because when you said "cold sesame noodle inspired" my brain latched onto the noodles more than the sesame aspect, and I thought you'd found some way to incorporate (soba) noodles into the brittle, which is something a) I had never thought of before and b) something I wasn't sure how to go about doing! I love the idea of sesame oil in the brittle, though, smart idea. Now I'm going to be obsessed with figuring out how to get the noodles in the brittle, though....

We exchanged a couple more emails on the subject and she's working on a solution.  I also need to make the thin and crisp brittle that Chef Andres suggested after the interview.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Check out Chef Parks' adventures at the BraveTart.  You'll be inspired.


Random photo at the onset of the packaging of the candies for the event.

"You will be assimilated!"

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