A Thanksgiving Magic Trick – Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Pumpkin Seed Brittle











Some things that are made in the kitchen seem more like dangerous magic tricks to me than cooking.  Candy making definitely falls into that category.  You’ve got scary hot melted sugar that could turn on you at any second.  There are thermometers to be consulted.  Specific temperatures must be reached and, if you’re off by one or two degrees, you might as well dump everything in the trash.  For those reasons, and more, I’ve tended to avoid the hard core candy-making route.  Until this pre-Thanksgiving season.  I went all in.  I started out with homemade candy corn (Thank you Alton Brown), progressed to fudge (chocolate and maple), and this week, went straight to hard crack. Yup, that’s right – I made brittle.  Pumpkin seed brittle to be exact.  And it is fabulous.

Now wait.  Stop.  Breathe.  You can do this – I promise.  You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment.  You will need a candy thermometer, but you can pick those up at most grocery stores.  You don’t need a lot of fancy technique.  What you do need is a bit of time where you can focus and the ability to prep in advance.

Prep is in fact the key here.  Get all your equipment ready to go.  Get all your ingredients measured out and ready to go.  Read through your recipe a bunch of times so that you have an idea of where you’re headed and I promise, you’ve got this.

The recipe is based on a nut brittle recipe from Chocolates and Confections, with a few minor tweaks.  Try it and you too can feel like a culinary magician.


  • 16 oz. (2 cups) white granulated sugar
  • 4 oz.  (1/2 cup) water
  • 12 oz. (1 cup) light corn syrup
  • 16 oz. raw shelled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Equipment:  4 quart saucepan, candy thermometer, parchment paper or silpat sheet, half sheet pan or rimmed cookie sheet.  An offset spatula and a silicone spatula are helpful but not necessary.

Get Ready:

  1. Calibrate your candy thermometer.  Yes, I know, it’s a pain – but much less of a pain than having to throw out a whole pan of scorched brittle.  Also, it only takes 10 minutes.  If you haven’t calibrated your thermometer before, fill a pot with water, bring it to a boil, attach your thermometer to the side and boil it for 10 minutes.  Check the temperature.  We live near sea level, so the boiling point should be around 211-212 degrees F.  If your thermometer shows 215, you know you’re about 3 degrees off and you need to increase your goal temperature by about 3 degrees (e.g., if your recipe says to cook until a mixture hits 240 degrees, you want it to hit 243 degrees before you done).  Conversely, if your thermometer shows 205 degrees, you’ll need to decrease your goal temperatures by an appropriate amount.  Write the temperature adjustment on the thermometer with a permanent marker so you don’t forget.  Also,don’t toss out the boiling water, put it to the side and use it later to help with clean up.
  2. Line your pan with parchment paper or the silpat sheet.  I prefer the silpat sheet – it’s simple.
  3. If you have an offset spatula, lightly oil it and set it aside.
  4. Measure out all your ingredients.
  5. Make sure your oven mitts, pot holders or oven gloves are nearby.

Make The Brittle

  1. Put the sugar, corn syrup and water in the sauce pan.  You want to use a medium to large size pot because this stuff can boil up.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring gently and constantly, over a medium/high-ish heat.  Make sure that whatever you’re using to stir is heat proof.  I prefer a silicone spatula.
  3. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and let it cook for 4 minutes.
  4. Uncover the pot, attach the candy thermometer (make sure it’s not touching the bottom of the pot), and cook until it reaches of temperature of 240 degrees F. Do NOT stir while cooking.
  5. Once it hits 240 degrees, add the pumpkin seed and cook it until it hits 320 degrees F, stirring so that mixture doesn’t scorch.  The temperature will plateau at times, hanging out and pretending that it’s not getting hotter.  Don’t get discouraged.  Do not walk away.  It will wait until you walk away and then burn.  Instead of walking away, keep stirring gently.  When it is about to reach 320 degrees it will turn a light brown.
  6. Once it hits 320 degrees, remove it from the heat.  Add the salt, butter, vanilla and baking soda.  Mix it together quickly and thoroughly.  Be careful – it will foam up.
  7. Quickly pour it onto the prepared pan and spread it with the offset spatula or another heat proof spatula.  Work fast because it will start to harden quickly.
  8. When it has cooled to room temperature, break it into pieces.

One caveat – everything they say about hot melted sugar is true – it burns and it hurts.  This is not the time to have small children (or animals, or partners) running around underfoot in the kitchen.  Save it for when you can focus for a bit.

And Now For The Clean Up:  - While the brittle is hardening, you will have a chance to notice that hard candy is stuck on the pot, the thermometers and any utensils you used. Don’t expect to just put these things in the sink, let them soak overnight with soapy water and be done with it.  That stuff needs to be dissolved off.  How? Put the pot in the sink and put the spatulas or utensils you used in it.  Remember the water you used to calibrate your thermometer?  Bring it back to a boil, attach the thermometer to the side of that pot again and let it boil until the hard candy melts off the thermometer.  Make sure there’s enough water in the pot to cover the candy on the thermometer. When you’re done, pour the boiling water into the pot you used to make the candy and let it sit until the candy dissolves.  Then drain the pot, and clean it and the utensils that you had inside it as usual.

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