Our Beijing ayi (ayi literally means “aunt,” but it’s a familiar term given by young kids to any older lady, or to ladies working in childcare, cooking, or cleaning professions) comes to our house once a week to help us maintain a clean apartment (our crazy cooking experiments don’t leave the kitchen in a good state). We love her.
Every weekend, when we can be seen running around throwing food, plates, and silverware everywhere and pointing the Nikon at everything, she takes it all in stride.
It wasn’t long before she became aware of our food blog (it all must have looked much less weird after that), and this week, she offered to teach us how to make her hometown specialty for the blog: a Chinese sesame peanut brittle. She described this as a Chinese New Year treat from the old days, when people didn’t have money to buy sugar, let alone candy.
Candy is a must-have for a lot of families during Chinese New Year, representing sweetness and happiness for the coming year. She also told us that in those days, a lot of people had no idea how to prepare it, so they would bring in a shi fu (a “master” of a trade) to come to the home just to make this sesame peanut brittle candy. Our ayi learned it from her mother, and her mother learned it from secretly watching the master who came to their house each year.
We made two versions: a simple Sesame Peanut Brittle, which had less sugar, and a Sesame Walnut Peanut Brittle, which had more sugar. In the end, we all preferred the version with less sugar, but you can adjust the amount of sugar you’d like to use according to your own taste preferences.
Use a flat pan over medium heat to dry-roast the peanuts (and/or walnuts, if using). Stir constantly (so they don’t burn) until the nuts are fragrant and toasty, about 10 minutes. Allow them to cool completely.
Once the peanuts are completely cool, use your hands to loosen the skins from the peanuts.
Now, the next part is a little tricky. Grasp the pan with both hands, and toss the peanuts up and down, while angling the pan slightly downward. If all goes right, the peanuts should flip up in the air and land back into the pan while the skins fly out over the sides.
It’s a good idea to do this over the sink. Of course, you can also buy shelled, already skinned peanuts. You can also buy plain roasted peanuts of course, but roasting them at home will make the peanut brittle taste a lot fresher.
Next, crush the peanuts into smaller pieces by laying them on a large cutting board or clean kitchen surface and rolling with a rolling pin.
Set the peanuts aside. Now brush the surface of your cutting board and rolling pin with a very light layer of oil to prevent sticking when you pour the brittle on it later.
Add the peanuts and sesame seeds to the melted sugar and mix well.
Quickly pour the hot peanut and sugar mixture onto the greased, flat surface of your cutting board and immediately roll it out to about 1/3-inch thick. Cut yoru sesame peanut brittle into your own desired size and shape.
Here’s the walnut version, with more sugar: