November 5, 2010

Running, Runny, Run

This was supposed to be a picture of a box overflowing with golden, low sodium, maple granola brittle. This was supposed to be the little treat I made to keep my friends full and fueled throughout the day on Sunday. This was supposed to be the way I thanked my superhero, Natalie Schwartz, for running her first NYC Marathon this weekend in my honor and in support of Lupus research.

This turned out to be a sticky, runny mess.

I guess I can now add candy making to my list of culinary talents that have yet to fully “mature.”  True confession – I’ve never made confections before. But I felt quite confident that I had this one in the bag. Unlike my previously recorded baking mishaps, I had all the right equipment – silpat, candy thermometer, maple syrup – and the recipe from Epicurious looked pretty straightforward:


  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds (2 oz)
  • tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (2 1/2 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, softened


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Spread oats, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon in an even layer in a large shallow baking pan and bake, stirring occasionally, until oats are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with pumpkin seeds and zest.

Line a baking sheet with nonstick liner. Cook brown sugar, syrup, and juice in a 4- to 6-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon (be careful not to splash or splatter while stirring; mixture will become extremely hot), until it registers 290°F on thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in butter until melted (mixture will thicken and become opaque), then quickly add nut mixture and stir until coated well. Immediately pour onto liner, then cover mixture with a sheet of parchment paper.

Roll out brittle as thin as possible with a rolling pin. Carefully peel off parchment paper and discard (don’t worry if some caramel sticks to parchment). Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Break brittle into large pieces.

Other than a few low sodium adjustments, I followed the directions step by step.

Until it came to the temperature. I waited and waited, but the numbers never rose above 220 degrees on my candy thermometer. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. The syrup was frothy and very hot, almost volcanic, but never 290.

Was my thermometer broken? Did the temperature really matter?  Either way, I wasn’t patient enough to find out and I moved along with the recipe, dumping the seeds and granola into the pot, fingers crossed that it would all magically work out in some sort of candy land-like miracle.

But alas, the chunky river of syrup. No goody goody gumdrops here.

I had a moment of cursing the culinary confectioner gods, but in thinking about my Natalie – the inspiration for the recipe – I quickly regained composure. This experiment was a complete failure. But that was ok. It was a reminder that perfection is not a measure of ultimate success – especially when you are trying something for the first time and taking on a challenge. Perseverance is.

While I will not be able to bring Natty maple brittle this weekend, I will definitely keep trying until I can send her a holiday box full of the sweet stuff. And that tenacity is what counts most. Plus, advice from candy experts (that’s you, Joann) and online resources like’s Foodpickle will help too – apparently using a heavy, cladded pan helps the syrup maintain its temperature. Noted.

Whether that uphill battle is a dietary restriction, a failed recipe, or, you know, a 26 mile run through the streets of New York, just remember that every hurdle is one leap closer to the finish line.

Chow and cheer on.

waiwa November 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

oops! everyone definitely has the ability for a re-do. we know you’ll nail it next time.

natalie November 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I am honored that u even attempted this, and I am hopingg that this is the only running mess there will be this weekend!!! Its the thought that counts and perserverance is our midddle name….Jess we can!!

Ginger November 5, 2010 at 2:32 pm

… just tried a gluten-free chocolate pudding recipe that looked yummy in the picture and stayed runny – maybe it was this week in the stars – it tasted good as I drank it.

sodium girl November 7, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Haha…hilarious! I didn’t even think about drinking it – you had a much more creative solution. I dumped my batch down the sink. Where it apparently solidified. Note to self: don’t dump failed candy experiments or potato peels down the sink. Ever. Sorry mom. Thanks Roter-Rooter.

Magdalena CAbrera November 5, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Success is in the eye of the beholder, right? Or is that beauty?! Either way works for me. A bright smile combined with a willingness not to give up after the first attempt at a new enterprise is Success in my book. Love you lots, SG! Go, Natalie and Jess we can!!

thedailydish November 6, 2010 at 6:34 am

This is great story, and a terrific analogy for life. When something doesn’t turn out right, don’t give up. You are a wonder in the kitchen SG, even your “failures” are beautiful. Best of luck to your friend. And thanks for the laugh, Ginger.

“it tasted good as I drank it.”

I will remember that!

Joann November 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Thanks for the shout-out/challenge, Jess! I will make it this weekend…temperature is crucial with boiled sugar candies. A heavy pan (including thick sides) is advised…hard to reach the proper temperature without burning otherwise. Candies are not hard to make…just precise…you’re a champion…you can do it!

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