I have a vicious sweet tooth, the kind that can turn violent in a hurry if not appeased. This used to be a real problem, because I have not always enjoyed cooking. In years past, I would, without any provocation, in the middle of a perfectly quiet and pleasant evening at home, turn to The Carnivore (and before that, to preceding boyfriends) and snarl, “Ben and Jerry’s!” I would stop at nothing, until a carton of “Everything but the…” was delivered into my hands. The Carnivore took to calling it ‘PMS Cream.’ We were fortunate, when we lived in town, to be within walking distance of a store that carried Ben and Jerry’s, and were only a few blocks away from a doughnut shop as well. And though The Carnivore could ignore my demands at times, I could, in a pinch, put my shoes on and actually take care of the emergency trips myself.
In the old days, my sweet tooth would rear its cranky head on a fairly predictable 28-day cycle, so the cravings were relatively manageable. Then we made a slight misstep and moved out to the country within a couple of weeks of the start of my pregnancy with The Big Boy. Suddenly, the nearest purveyor of decent ice cream was about five miles away. And my sweet tooth moved in with us permanently.
You see why I had to learn to cook, right?
Summertime is easy for me. With abundant fresh fruit available, I can manage my after-dinner cravings without having to pull out the big guns. For a couple of years, there were scads of blueberry bushes on the property right next to our house. And just this past summer, I was able to supplement my environmentally shameful trucked-in-from-California cherry addiction with cantaloupes from our CSA, watermelons from my mother’s garden just down the road from us, strawberries from the farmer’s market, and blackberries from our own front yard.
But things get really ugly when I’m nursing a baby. I’m not sure if it’s because my caloric needs increase to an extent that I’m unable to get by without supplementing my usually very healthy diet with vast quantities of dessert, or if I’m just using breastfeeding as an excuse to act like a madwoman, but I cave in completely to these desires.
Lately, I’ve been making a batch of brownies (a great time for me to keep refining my baking techniques, right?) and playing around with different pie recipes every Saturday. And now that it’s Christmastime, and I would do most anything to avoid having to go shopping, I’ve enjoyed digging around for candy recipes to give as gifts this year. I hit the jackpot this weekend with a Cooking Light recipe for Walnut Brittle. I was quite nervous about this one, not least because the idea of ‘diet’ desserts causes a great deal of cognitive dissonance for me. And I get cranky when I have to wrestle with candy thermometers.
As soon as it came time to pour the molten liquid into the sheet pan to let it harden, in which there is a window of only a couple of seconds to get this done before pouring becomes impossible, and I HATE having to move that quickly, and my parchment paper shifted on the pan, and the wooden spoon nearly got stuck on top of the finished product, I swore I would never make this recipe again, no matter how good it tasted. But then I ate a piece an hour or so later, and oh my, I fell deeply, madly, hopelessly in love.
Normally, a dessert will last about a week around here. The Carnivore and I, with the help of a friend who is staying with us right now, went through the ENTIRE BATCH within 24 hours.
We are completely out of control. Soon we’ll be main-lining sugar and chasing it with shots of vanilla extract.
WALNUT BRITTLE (adapted from Cooking Light, makes less-than-enough servings)
- Cooking spray
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup ('light' refers to the color, not the number of calories)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Line a small jelly-roll pan with parchment paper, coat paper lightly with cooking spray, and keep pan warm in a 200 degree oven (the warm pan will be a slight help in spreading the candy).
- Combine sugar, corn syrup, water and butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
- Cook 20 minutes, or until a candy thermometer (in my case, a turkey thermometer) registers 275 degrees.
- Stir in walnuts, and cook for another 2 minutes or until thermometer reads 295 degrees, STIRRING CONSTANTLY.
- Remove from heat, and QUICKLY stir in baking soda and vanilla.
- VERY QUICKLY pour mixture into prepared pan.
- Optional, because it is nearly impossible: attempt to spread mixture to 1/4-inch thickness using a wooden spoon coated with cooking spray.
- Cool completely; break brittle into pieces.
- Threaten family members with eviction if they eat the last piece.