The last few weeks have been mostly cold and rainy, with a few brief days of heat and sunshine. There were just enough warm days for the bugs to hatch and begin a fresh onslaught which is thankfully starting to fade away. The cold, damp weather brings to mind curry rice. It was one of the few dishes that my Mom would make when I was growing up. Always in the winter, she would make curry with either chicken or shrimp. It was her specialty and we all loved it. The curry was made in a big orange Le Creuset stew pot which was also used for my Aunt's beef stew, another winter specialty of the house. Mom's curry was extremely thick with chunks of potatoes and carrots, thick pieces of sweet onion, juicy hunks of daikon radish and tender chicken or shrimp. It was always served with plain steamed rice. We would continue to eat it for breakfast or lunch until it all disappeared, but the first appearance was always for dinner. It would cook all afternoon, the sweet, spicy smell permeating the house and pulling me back to the kitchen again and gain to peer under the lid and perhaps snag a potato if no one was around. For some reason we never ate curry in restaurants. It was strictly considered home cooking. Mom made it rarely enough for it to be a treat and often enough for me to associate it with cold winter days and weekends at home. It was years before I realized that curry wasn't strictly Japanese and that there was a wide range of global curry dishes to tempt my palate and my culinary skills.
Flipping through a cookbook the other day I was looking at recipes for spiced nuts. I think the recipe was for curried almonds which seemed a bit coarse and heavy for my palate. Buttery cashews came to mind as the perfect vehicle for letting the rich flavors of the Madagascar curry powder we had on hand shine through. I quickly threw together a batch of nuts that was aromatic and delicious. There was great balance of sweet and spice, salt and earth. Alex ate a few and said, how about making this into a brittle?
His idea was to convert the nuts I had already made into a brittle. I decided that since the nuts were already cooked that it would be better to start from scratch. This way I could cook the raw nuts in the caramel and they would season each other for a maximum flavor impact. I added salt, curry powder and baking soda to the mix for a brittle that actually lived up to it's name. It was sweet and spicy, delicate and crisp, and yes, it still stuck to my tongue and teeth. Caramel will do that. Little did I know that as soon as my back was turned, Alex would grind the stuff up to make it into tuiles...although I wasn't entirely surprised when I made the discovery. The brittle itself was special, spicy and warming, with a range of textures from the roasted nuts and caramel. The tuiles are delicious too. You can use the recipe to make either but I suggest that you enjoy a few pieces of the actual brittle before you grind it up. But be warned, it's addictive stuff. If you give in to temptation there might not be enough left to transform into delicate, ethereal crisps. It's okay though, because the recipe is so easy you'll be able to make these again and again without thinking twice about it.
Curried Cashew Brittle
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of agave syrup (or corn syrup)
1/4 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of cashews (broken pieces are fine)
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
Line a sheet tray with aluminum foil and butter liberally. Set it aside. Combine sugar, agave and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. While it's cooking, combine the salt, curry and baking soda and set aside. Continue to cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F. Add the nuts and continue to boil, stirring often until the mixture is golden brown and reaches between 290-300 degrees F. or hard crack. Carefully add the butter , the caramel may spit, and swirl to blend. Add the salt-curry-soda mixture and stir well. The mixture will lighten and expand in the pot. Once everything is fully incorporated, pour the caramel out onto the buttered, foil-lined tray and set aside to cool and harden. Break into pieces and eat immediately or wrap the candy and keep in a cool, airtight container for up to a week. Alternatively, you can grind it up in the food processor, lay it out on a silpat and melt it down in a low oven to make delicate tuiles.