Rita’s Recipe: Nut Brittle, Hanukkah Gelt
About St. Nicholas
It’s interesting that the feast of St. Nicholas and Hanukkah fall on the same day, December 6.
First, some history about the feast of St. Nicholas. Nicholas, born in a section of Greece which is now part of Turkey, came from wealthy parents who died when he was young.
They taught him good Christian values, and he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Each night, Nicholas would disguise himself and deliver such items as food, clothing and money to the people of his village.
Of all the townspeople, Nicholas felt the closest bond with one specific family. This family had lost all their money, and the father needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty. In those days a dowry was necessary to marry. Nicholas became informed of this, and anonymously took a bag of gold coins and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. The legend is that it landed in a pair of shoes or socks that were left by the fire to dry. He gave the other 2 daughters enough gold for their dowries, too.
This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.
Where does Santa Claus fit in this picture?
It was the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam who introduced us to Sint Klaes/Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas.
And so at the beginning of Advent, we celebrate his feast day on December 6 by filling stockings with small gifts and also we put in fruit: a pomegranate. When we were kids, we put our regular socks on the bed posts. Now we hang fancy stockings on the mantle.
Along with gold chocolate coins associated with the feast (and also associated with Hanukkah) is an almond candy, sort of like a brittle. Here’s an easy brittle recipe adapted from Melanie Barnard, and a chocolate coin recipe to share. Both make fun gifts from the kitchen.
Simple Nut Brittle
Chock full of nuts. That’s why I call it “loaded.” If you want more brittle, use fewer nuts. Any nuts are good to use and you can vary the amount. I like a combo, but all almonds would be traditional.
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup – I’ve used both light and dark and prefer dark
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1-1/2 -2 cups salted mixed nuts or your favorite
Line cookie sheet with foil and spray it. Stir butter, sugar and corn syrup in heavy or nonstick pan over medium heat until sugar melts and mixture bubbles and becomes smooth. Cover and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in vanilla and nuts and cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are fragrant and golden brown, about 5 minutes or so. You’ll see an opaque, foamy look to the brittle. If you drop a bit into some ice water, it will become what I call “hard crack stage”, and when you bite it, it will have the texture of a lollipop.
Pour onto foil, spreading thin. Cool and break apart. Store, tightly covered, at room temperature up to a week.
Hanukkah Gelt/Golden Chocolate Coins
Hanukkah starts on December 6, as well, and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple/Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of the nine-branched menorah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night.
Golden chocolate coins are part of the festival. You can make your own. Really easy and coins can be simply left plain, sprinkled with golden sugar sprinkles or painted with edible gold luster dust, which can be purchased.
- 2 cups chocolate wafers
- gold sugar or gold luster
Stove: Melt 2 cups chocolate wafers on low heat in nonstick pan just until they are almost melted completely. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
Microwave: To melt in microwave: place in microwave safe bowl and melt in 30 second intervals, stirring as you go, until they are almost melted. Remove and stir until smooth.
Drop a nice spoonful of melted chocolate into nonstick mini muffin pans. No need to overdo. Thinner coins look nicer thanthick. You’ll get 18-14 coins.
With gold sugar: Sprinkle with gold sugar as you go, before chocolate starts to harden. Do let it set a bit so sugar doesn’t melt into the chocolate. Let harden and turn pan over, tapping on bottom to push coins out.
With gold luster: After coins are hardened, turn pan over, tapping on bottom to push coins out, then brush with luster. I turn mine upside down and brush the top and sides only.
Rita Nader Heikenfeld writes a weekly syndicated column and blog for the Community Press, appears every Thursday on the Son Rise Morning Show, and is the author of several cookbooks. An adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, she is Certified Culinary Professional and Certified Modern Herbalist, the Culinary Professional for Jungle Jim’s Eastgate, and a media personality with a cable show and YouTube videos. In 2014 she was inducted into the Escoffier Hall of Fame. She lives “in the sticks” outside Batavia, Ohio with her family, where they heat with wood, raise chickens for eggs, and grow their own produce and herbs. You’ll find all her previous recipes featured on The Catholic Beat here.
Rita’s Bible Foods segment airs on the Son Rise Morning Show every Thursday morning at 7:22 am (rebroadcast Friday at 6:02 am). Tune in to hear her discuss the history behind each recipe and the scripture verses that inspired it. And of course, for cooking tips!
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