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Pistachio brittle: The holiday candy to give as a gift

It's like peanut brittle - only better

Pistachios always remind me of the holidays. So when I set out to create a yearly tradition of a simple seasonal treat, pistachios had to be in the mix.

They remind me of this time of year because of my dad. He has always been a hard person to buy gifts for, whether it's Father's Day, Christmas or his birthday. We have bought him nearly every piece of Beatles memorabilia and every novelty nose item on the planet, since the family nose is famously prominent.

At some point, we also figured out that he likes nuts. So nearly every Christmas morning our gifts to him included a big bag of mixed nuts he could eat by the bowlful or a small package of the expensive Cadillac of nuts: pistachios.

Growing up in Billings, we always got them from the candy store at the center of Rimrock Mall. It couldn't have been much of a surprise to open the same-size gift every year, one that made the same noise when he shook it, but he always seems to appreciate this special treat.

I can see why my dad likes pistachios. There's a complexity to their flavor that hits your taste buds in ways that other nuts don't. That flavor can vary slightly from nut to nut. Their colors are beautifully green and cream, with hints of purple. They are a lot more plentiful in grocery stores these days - no longer just a mall candy store item.

Most of us have had peanut brittle, which is also a popular holiday gift. It often comes in tins, either alone or mixed with other sweet favorites for seasonal noshing.

I've developed a reliable recipe for peanut brittle, and then just swapped out the peanuts for pistachios. It adds a fun flavor to the brittle and provides a remarkable color contrast with the amber candy. These differences make pistachio brittle so much more special than the peanut version. But if peanuts, hazelnuts, or cashews are more your thing, just substitute one (or all!) of them for the pistachios in this recipe.

If you have a parent, sibling or friend who's notoriously hard to buy for, it might be time to give them the gift of pistachio brittle. I've never known anyone to be disappointed on the receiving end.

A couple of good tips for this recipe: 1) Make sure to use a large saucepan, since the hot candy mixture will bubble up once the baking soda gets stirred in at the end. 2) A candy thermometer is a worthwhile investment, since it will make sure you get to the right temperature for the correct texture. 3) Enlist an adult helper when you pour the final mixture onto the parchment. Because the brittle will be molten in the saucepan, this is not a task well suited for a child's help.

Now go forth and brittle, Montana!


1 1/2 cups shelled and salted pistachios

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 stick of salted butter, plus more to coat the parchment

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

flake salt for topping

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a buttered piece of parchment paper. In a large saucepan, add 1 cup sugar, 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil before lowering the heat to medium. Stir occasionally until a deep amber color develops, which can take up to 15 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, you'll find the color you're looking for at about 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once you have the color, take the pan off the heat. Thoroughly and quickly stir in the pistachios with a silicone spatula. Then stir in the baking soda. (Be careful, because it will foam and bubble up as you stir it in, which is why you use a large saucepan.) Quickly and carefully pour the mixture onto the buttered parchment-lined baking sheet and spread it out as thinly as you can with a wooden spoon. (The mixture is very hot, so don't get it on you! It helps to have two people do this step.) Sprinkle on some flake salt before it hardens. Break into shards after it has cooled completely.

Try not to eat all of it in one night, because it will keep well in plastic bags or tins to give to friends and neighbors.

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