Andrea Nguyen switched careers from banking and is now an award-winning author, teacher, and consultant. Born in Vietnam, she came to the United States at the age of six. Her books include Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, The Banh Mi Handbook, Asian Dumplings, Asian Tofu and The Pho Cookbook, which won a 2018 James Beard Foundation Award. Andrea’s articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Cooking Light. Her newest cookbook, Vietnamese Food Any Day, shows you how to use easy-to-find ingredients to create delicious, fresh Viet flavours at home – fast.
Nut and seed brittles are a popular Vietnamese sweet, sold at bakeries and even airports. When I hanker for some, I make a small, fast batch to ensure freshness. A candy thermometer doesn’t work well with such a modest quantity. Instead, I carefully monitor the sugar syrup (no texting!) during the 10 minutes of cooking. My brittle has always turned out great, and I’ve become a better cook, too.
Cashew halves and pieces laid flat look handsome in brittle. The recipe calls for raw nuts and seeds, which yield a nuanced flavour. If you use roasted ones, cut back on the final cooking to avoid a scorched taste. When doubling the recipe (if you’re making some to gift during Tet holidays), use a larger saucepan.
- ½ cup raw cashew halves and pieces (a brimming ½ cup is good)
- 1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds (white, brown, or black)
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Scant 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
- ¼ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup sugar, preferably cane
- ⅓ cup light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon water
To hold the hot brittle mixture, tear off a roughly 13-inch square piece of parchment paper and put on an inverted rimmed baking sheet, a wood cutting board, or the counter, if it is heat resistant. Have a rack ready for cooling.
In a medium bowl, combine the cashews, sesame seeds, salt, and coconut oil. Set near the stove with the baking soda.
In a heavy 1½- to 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula to dissolve the sugar. Continue boiling, stirring frequently, for 3- 4 minutes, until the sugar mixture thickens. When you dip the spatula in the pan and lift it out, some of the sugar will slide off, but a bubble-laden coating will remain. (This is the soft-crack stage, about 290°F on a candy thermometer.)
Dump the cashews, sesame seeds, salt, and coconut oil into the syrup and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. The stiff mixture will soon loosen, turn foamy, and feel lighter under the weight of the spatula. When it’s fragrant and the cashews have darkened a shade or two, remove from heat.
Add baking soda, stirring vigorously; the mixture will bubble, rise, and turn opaque. Immediately pour onto the parchment paper and use the spatula to spread so it’s roughly ¼ inch thick. Let sit for 5 minutes to set, then put the parchment on the rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes. Lift the brittle off the paper, check the underside, and, if needed, blot the bottom with paper towels to remove excess oil. Break the brittle into shards.
Eat soon or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.
Cane sugar works perfectly for this recipe. Beet sugar does not caramelize well.
If corn syrup isn’t for you, substitute brown rice syrup (sold at many health food stores); it’s cloudy and thick, so stir more often than recommended in the recipe, and feel free to occasionally slide the pan off the burner to check progress.
Try peanuts instead of cashews, and pumpkin seeds instead of sesame seeds.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt