Recipes for peanut brittle often begin with an introduction stating how simple this candy is to make -- little consolation when yours doesn't turn out. Once you get the hang of it, peanut brittle isn't difficult, but it takes some trial and error. Cooks have been making -- and ruining -- this crunchy confection since the mid-1800s. Luckily, sticky brittle can typically be salvaged with a little more time in the oven.
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Peanut Brittle Pitfalls
The most likely reason your peanut brittle turned sticky is because you didn't cook it long enough. Peanut brittle has to reach the hard-crack stage, which means that strands of sugar break easily and feel dry, not sticky. If you take it off the heat too soon, it doesn't set up and makes a sticky mess, but let it cook too long and it becomes scorched and bitter. Another possible cause might be humidity in the air. Not only does it wreak havoc with your hair, but it can ruin a batch of peanut brittle. Storing peanut brittle in the fridge or freezer also can alter its texture.
Worth a Try
When peanut brittle doesn't harden up, your best options are to either start over or pretend that you meant to make peanut chews, not peanut brittle. But before you toss the sticky peanut brittle in the trash, try reheating it and repeating the final cooking steps. Break up the brittle into pieces so it fits into your saucepan. Heat at medium to medium-low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning the peanuts. When the mixture is completely liquid, raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the temperature is 305 to 310 F, stirring occasionally and keeping a close eye on the pot. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet, stretching it out with two forks, if desired. Allow the peanut brittle to cool completely before breaking it up and testing. There are no guarantees that this strategy will work, but it can't hurt to try.
Use a Candy Thermometer
If you don't own a candy thermometer, it's time to invest in one. Candy thermometers clip onto the side of a saucepan and allow you to accurately monitor cooking so you never burn or undercook peanut brittle again. The peanut brittle is done when the candy thermometer registers between 305 and 310 F. If you live in a humid climate, err on the side of more cooking time to avoid stickiness. At this point, the candy will be golden brown. If you put a drop of it in a glass of water, it will instantly harden. Remove the peanut brittle from the heat and stir in butter, vanilla and baking soda. The vanilla and the butter add flavor. The baking soda performs a feat of pure cooking alchemy. The carbon dioxide bubbles in the baking soda create a porous candy so the peanut brittle breaks easily and melts on your tongue. Without the baking soda, peanut brittle would have the texture of a hard candy. For thin and crispy peanut brittle, don rubber gloves and stretch the peanut brittle after a few minutes of cooling time.
Keeping Peanut Brittle
Peanut brittle can be stored for up to two weeks, although chances are, it won't last that long. Set the peanut brittle on a counter and let it cool down completely. Break it into pieces and pack the cooled candy into air tight containers or plastic zip-top bags. Store the peanut brittle at room temperature, not in the fridge.