I’m not usually much of a sweets person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m addicted to sugar like most of the developed world, but I just don’t make them myself. Part of the reason for this is that when I crave something sweet, I only want a few bites, not a whole cake or a dozen cookies. Sweets also usually have a bad effort to reward ratio, especially if you take into consideration the plethora of tasty treats available here in Japan.
The one exception is during the holiday season when a bag of sweet treats, makes for the perfect gift. Giving a small bag of edible treats is not only more memorable than sending a greeting card, they can be made en masse without breaking your holiday budget.
This chocolate brittle is loaded with crunchy cacao nibs and is held together with a honey chocolate brittle. It also happens to be ridiculously quick and easy to make. If you’ve ever had sugar seize up on you while trying to make caramel, you’re probably looking at the screen skeptically right now, but I have a technique for you that will guarantee that will never happen again.
There are actually two tricks to preventing sugar from crystallizing as you heat it. The first is to add an invert sugar to your table sugar. An invert sugar consists of monosaccharides such as fructose and glucose and discourages the crystallization of sucrose. The second trick is to deprive the dissolving sugar of seed crystals. The easiest way to do this is to dissolve the sugar in a bit of water by covering the pot with a lid and bringing the water to a boil. It’s important to make sure there are no sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pot when you do this, which is why I carefully make a mountain of sugar in the center of the pot.
Once the sugar reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s just a matter of adding in the baking soda, cocoa powder, salt, nibs and butter. It’s important to work quickly here as you don’t want to overheat the sugar and once you take it off the heat it’s a race against the time before the sugar sets.
For the cocoa powder, be sure you use “natural” cocoa powder. This isn’t some newfangled marketing term, but refers to a type of cocoa powder which has not been dutch processed. Cocoa is naturally acidic, but dutch processed cocoa neutralizes the pH, which gives the cocoa powder a dark reddish brown color and more intense chocolate taste. Since the baking soda needs a slightly acidic caramel in order to do its thing and infuse bubbles into your brittle so that it’s not rock hard, it’s important that you use a natural cocoa powder to make this cacao brittle.
Be sure to store it in a cool dry place. If you plan on packing this with other sweets such as cookies or cake, be sure to coat these in powdered sugar so they don’t stick together.
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon flakey sea salt (such as Maldon)
- 120 grams cacao nibs (~1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons cultured unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup mild honey
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda, cocoa powder, and sea salt. Top with the the cacao nibs and butter and set aside.
- Stir the honey and water together in a heavy bottomed pot with a lid until combined. Add the sugar in the center of the pot being careful not to get sugar on the sides of the pot. Do not mix.
- Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove the lid and boil the mixture until you see it start to change color. Turn down the heat to medium and then start checking the temperature. You want to get the caramel up to 300 degrees F.
- As soon as it hits 300 degrees F, turn off the heat and add the cacao nib mixture, stirring quickly to combine. Scrape the mixture out into the prepared baking sheet and spread the brittle to an even thickness.
- Let the chocolate brittle cool completely and then break it up into pieces.