Two Octobers ago, I hosted a party centered around a theme: each guest would bring a dish that they prepared, and each dish had to include pumpkin. The only thing that wasn’t allowed was pumpkin pie. Savory was encouraged, but not mandatory. Nobody knew what to expect of the evening, including myself. Some guests worried that dishes would be repeated, some doubted their cooking abilities.
But you know what? It was one of the most amazing parties that I’ve ever hosted. Everybody rose to the challenge, everybody participated and nobody knew what the scope of the dishes would be. There was so much surprise: pumpkin arepas, pumpkin chutney, pumpkin curry, pumpkin arancini, pumpkin succotash. Not one dish disappointed.
One of my favorites from the evening was my friend Jacquelyn’s pumpkin seed brittle. It is the perfect homemade candy and its magic, addictive powers will carry you through any social event. You can employ any kind of nuts that you fancy and endless spice combinations. I love when a recipe’s power comes in the transformation of the simplest ingredients: melted butter, caramelized sugar and a handful of nuts join forces to create a crunchy, salty, sweet and spicy candy. Other than frequent stirring and a watchful eye on the candy thermometer, it’s remarkably simple.
Spiced Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Yield: About 6-8 servings
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas; feel free to use any tree nut you’d prefer)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
(For the Pistachio Sesame brittle, use 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and 3/4 cup pistachios.)
Grease a 9×12 baking sheet with butter and set aside.
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium low flame, melt the butter with the cinnamon, chile powder, ginger and sea salt. Add the sugar and stir thoroughly. Continue to stir sugar almost constantly to prevent burning. When the temperature of the mixture reaches 280 degrees, add the nuts. Continue stirring almost constantly.
The sugar will slowly begin to clump and melt. Keep stirring! At 300 degrees, remove from heat and quicky stir in the baking powder.
Working quickly, pour the brittle onto the greased baking pan, spreading with a spatula. Let stand until thoroughly cooled and hardened. (You can expedite this by putting it into the fridge.)
Kimberley Hasselbrink is a food photographer and blogger based in San Francisco. She is the author of the blog The Year in Food, which is framed around a monthly seasonal food guide. Kimberley enjoys unusual produce, strong coffee, road trips and summer nights.