WALBRIDGE - The final countdown to Christmas has begun.
|Sue Henderson with her microwave peanut brittle. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
That means the window of opportunity for holiday cookie- and candy-baking is rapidly narrowing.
For those planning to impress their family, friends or co-workers with the latter, Sue Henderson has a perfect solution.
Her brilliantly simple, but delicious microwave peanut brittle will be great for gift-giving, yet not suck up an entire afternoon in the kitchen during these last busy days before Dec. 25.
Henderson acquired this recipe a long time ago.
"When I got my very first microwave, in 1981, I looked through the recipes" in the "nice, big hardcover cookbook that came with it" because she wanted to try out the oven right away.
"That was the only recipe that I had all the ingredients on hand."
She still remembers the model distinctly. "It was a JC Penney."
"It was a big one that sat on the corner of the counter" and kept on ticking no matter what. "It was still working when we moved in 2006."
"I wanted to do something quick" and the peanut brittle looked quite simple.
Turns out it was destined to become a "keeper" for the next 30 years and more.
"I've been using it every year since. People used to make peanut brittle in the cast-iron pan on top of the stove and it always seems to taste a little burnt, but this doesn't. This is just so smooth, and such a breeze," she said.
"Sometimes you can burn sugar and it gets so dark," but that's never a problem with the microwave brittle recipe. The candy comes out of the oven "such a pretty caramel-y color."
Sometimes, just to mix it up, Henderson will use almonds or cashews in the brittle, "but the peanut is the main thing."
Henderson still has her old JC Penney microwave cookbook, not that she needs to consult it to remember how to make the peanut brittle. "My peanut brittle page sticks together. I don't need to look at it any more."
Henderson made the peanut brittle for the Walbridge Centennial Committee's holiday cookie sale last year and while "there were other peanut brittles there too," of the traditional variety, hers proved just as popular.
By popular demand, she'll be bringing peanut brittle to the 2013 Holiday Cookie Sale, too. The public event, slated for this Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m., will be held at the VFW Hall at 109 N. Main St., Walbridge.
Cookies are priced at $6 per dozen.
Featured varieties will include holiday cut-outs, pineapple cookies, rum balls, Oreo Balls, Buckeyes, chocolate no-bakes, both chocolate and peanut butter fudge, as well as the peanut brittle and other goodies.
The pineapple cookies, by the way, are familiar to regular Sentinel-Tribune readers because Sharilyn Boday's recipe for them was featured in the Cook's Corner on Jan. 2, 2013.
For the cut-out cookies, pre-orders were required by Dec. 12. All other items can be purchased on Thursday.
Henderson's brittle recipe was chosen for inclusion in the committee's Centennial Cookbook, which will also be available for purchase at the holiday sale.
She and fellow organizers brought back the holiday cookie sale "by popular demand. We had a lot of people call us during the year to see if we were going to do it again."
It's one of several projects that came out of the village's centennial observance that residents hope to make permanent fixtures of the annual calendar.
The Walbridge Fest Committee, in existence for years, and the Walbridge Centennial Committee hope to combine forces going forward.
As a direct descendent of Philip Loop, Walbridge's first settler, Henderson was an early booster of the activities surrounding this year's Walbridge Centennial celebration, including the related fundraising activities.
Henderson's aunt Claris Loop Janes, 93, is one of the two oldest living persons born in Walbridge - the other is Chester Herrington - and both were honored this summer at the main centennial event in July.
"My mother was a Loop. My great-grandfather George was the first non-native baby born in Walbridge."
Henderson grew up in Oregon but moved to Walbridge soon after she got married, 50 years ago. "Both my parents grew up here."
Now retired, she worked for several area doctors, including Walbridge physicians Bringman and Boes.
So retirement affords her plenty of time to make brittle.
"My husband goes to cardiac rehab at St. Charles and I send some there" for the staffers and patients. "They've requested it a few times through the year.
"But I always make it at Christmas. I do give it as gifts, and we have friends we give bags to. My husband takes some up to the barber shop" as well.
If you make a holiday batch, keep a few things in mind:
"The bowl is hot; you have to use potholders. It's corn syrup and sugar, boiling."
Likewise, "use caution in handling the utensils. Even the cookie sheet gets warm."
Henderson has never made a double batch since "that would affect the cooking time." The recipe as listed makes exactly one pound batch of brittle.
"The hardest part about it is getting the bowls clean. You have to soak them."
Microwave peanut brittle
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1 cup cocktail peanuts
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
In 1 1/2-quart or 2-quart casserole dish:
Stir together sugar and corn syrup, and microwave for 3 minutes (Dish will be hot).
Stir peanuts into sugar mixture and microwave for 3 minutes.
Add butter and vanilla extract, stir well and microwave for 1 minute.
Add baking soda and gently stir until light and foamy. Pour mixture onto lightly greased (I use cold butter very lightly) cookie sheet, or un-buttered, non-stick coated cookie sheet. Spread with spatula. Let cool.
When cool, break into small pieces and store in air tight container.
Makes about 1 pound.
Substitute 1 cup almonds for the peanuts and 1 teaspoon almond extract for the vanilla.