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A brittle business

For some, traditional peanut candy can't be improved

For some, traditional peanut candy can't be improved

December 06, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Peanut brittle loathers might be peanut brittle lovers without knowing it.

"You ever eat a candy-coated nut? With a buttery, hard-candy coating on the outside and a crunchy nut on the inside?" asked Will Pananes, owner of Olympia Candy Kitchen in Chambersburg, Pa., and Hagerstown. "They're taking the same idea of peanut brittle and applying it to individual nuts."

Peanut brittle's fan base has dwindled, thanks to today's easy-on-the-tooth confections. But according to local candy makers, peanut brittle hasn't completely fallen off the radar. Instead, the candy has evolved - like the coated walnuts and other varieties you might find in the candy aisle or local shop.

John Leows, who's been in the candy-making business for three decades, said he could remember when peanut brittle was the "it" candy.

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"We used to do tons of peanut brittle back in the late '70s when I took over the business," said Leows, owner of The Candy Kitchen in Waynesboro, Pa., and Frederick, Md. "The older generation, those born in the '20s, '30s, and '40s, grew up on it. The baby boomers, they did not grow up on it."

The declining interest in the candy led to declining sales, prompting the business to stop making and selling peanut brittle in the late '90s, Leows said.

Olympia Candy Kitchen only offers the candy during the holidays, "for nostalgic value," said Tony Pananes, Will Panenes's 28-year-old son.

"I definitely look at it as old-fashioned," Tony Pananes said. "It's not like I'll ever be thinking, 'Oh, I want some peanut brittle right now.'"

But his favorite candy? Dark chocolate-covered pecan turtles, or "Terrapins." One could argue that candies such as the Terrapins, evolved from hard brittles, Pananes said.

Brittles and taffies - both thought of as old-school candies - are made by cooking a combination of sugar and corn syrup and other ingredients, pouring the mixture onto a flat surface and pulling the mixture (by hand) until it's thin and no longer sticky.

Last year it was peppermint bark. Seemed to be "the" holiday candy of the year, if appearing in virtually every catalog counts as critical mass. Tinkering with some recipes, I made a fine version, including a vegan variant for my mother.

This year? Peppermint again, but the object of my lust this time was the candy cane-studded brownies I'd seen in the Stonewall Kitchen catalog. What a brilliant - and decadent - idea.

I might as well create my dream brownie, which then could be made with or without candy canes. That brownie would be rich and fudgy. So fudgy, in fact, as to be just one or two grains of flour away from being fudge.

The result is a breathtakingly good brownie with just the right peppermint undercurrent. And an extra sprinkle of crushed candy canes over the top melts into a delicious crisp. You'll need to loosen your belt for this one.

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