Monday, June 20, 2011

A Childhood Favorite (and a Chocolate-Lover's Dream)

When I was cleaning out my freezer on Friday, looking for the tomato soup I had so wisely packed away for a week like this when I needed some liquid meals, I came across a massive stash of quart containers. I was trying to rack my brain as to what each was. One was that delicious Sweets 'n Beans chili (um, dinner Wednesday perhaps?), another was a corn chowder, and then my tomato soup -- but what was the fourth container, eerily light? I gave it a shake and it all came back to me: My first attempt at a beloved family recipe for Nut Crunch (and no, I did not break the cleanse for this - or anything, for that matter!).

I don't know the exact origins of these Christmastime favorite (and warning, if you're going to make it now, be sure the AC is on as sugar is very sensitive to humidity levels. You wouldn't want chewy Nut Crunch, now, would you?), but its delicious nonetheless. The key is to cook the sugar far enough so it reaches a hard crack stage but also doesn't crystalize, so the resulting candy is ideally clear (this is a challenge. I got close, but next time will get a bit closer). Spread with lots of dark chocolate and chopped almonds, this is a chocolate and caramel-lovers DREAM!

Nut Crunch

Growing up, this candy WAS Christmas for me. Based on my grandmother's recipe, this delicious alternative to Christmas cookies may appear intimidating, but as long as you prep your ingredients in advance, it is really quite easy.

When cooking the sugar, be sure to stir it as it gets to hard crack stage, and be sure to brush down the sides of the pan with a wet brush so that crystals don't form.

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Combine sugar, salt, butter, vanilla and water in a 4-quart saucepan. Cook over high heat until it reaches hard crack stage, stirring frequently and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush so crystals don't form.

While the sugar cooks, divide the nuts into two equal portions. Once the sugar gets to hard crack stage, add 1/2 of the nuts. Stir well and pour onto a greased silpat-lined cookie sheet. Spread it to about 1/4-inch thickness and let it cool until hardened.

While the crunch cools, temper the chocolate.

Once the crunch is cool, peel the silpat away from the crunch and spread the flat side with a thin layer of chocolate and spread 1/2 of the remaining nuts on top. Let the chocolate harden.
Once the chocolate is hardened, flip the crunch over and spread the chocolate and nuts on the other side. Let cool completely. 

Break into bite sized pieces and enjoy. 

Store in an airtight container for 1 week, or in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours

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