According to Nations Restaurant News, quite a few chefs around the United States have elevated brittle into intriguing, delicate forms and flavors for their dessert menus. A pumpkin seed brittle spiced with cinnamon, cayenne, and cloves awaits you in Little Dom's in L.A. This brittle is spread so thin it's translucent (and a far cry from the clumsy shards I used to prepare).
At the Morrison House, in Washington D.C., chef Dennis Marron prepares a graham cracker brittle that he serves with brûlée marshmallow, chocolate fondue, and banana. Finally, for you uber-fancy pretentious foodies, the Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI, offers a panna cotta made from local ricotta cheese, and serves it with olive oil cake, figs, apples, an "orange gastrique," and a small rectangle of walnut brittle.
A fine example of brittle, by George (toastforbrekkie) via Flickr.
I'd like to point out that many lovely ladies have been making traditional and slightly-tweaked brittles recently. Two of my favorites: Smitten Kitchen's Pepita Brittle recipe, and Karen Demasco's Peanut Brittle (of Craft and Craftbar).
Was brittle ever in style in the first place? I may be too young to remember that (wow, those instances are dwindling fast!), but in my experience brittle was never a big seller in my part of South Florida. Despite that lack of popularity, I went on a peanut and hazelnut brittle-making kick around 2002. I quickly discovered that making this traditional dessert well is not as easy as it seems.
I followed a great recipe from Ultimate Cake by Barbara Maher. This book holds a wealth of good, basic information for the beginning baker. It's written simply and the photographs are beautiful. And while the recipe was straightforward enough, making brittle requires quick reactions after you've set up your mise en place, which seemed beyond me at the time. I toasted the raw hazelnuts and flaked the little skins off just fine, of course. Melting the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and other goodies properly was somewhat beyond me, as was spreading the sticky brittle into something thinner than a brick.
My old technique produced jaw-cracking shards that didn't make for pleasant evenings, so I put away the recipe for years. Now that these variations on brittle have re-sparked my interest, I may have to try my hand at them. Friends and family, look out! In the meantime, you can read more about the trend from Nations Restaurant News here.