21 May2011

Pili Nut Brittle

by Marketman

These are the pili nut brittles that I made a couple of hours before this dinner with Tom Parker-Bowles a few weeks ago. They couldn’t be easier and they tasted absolutely fantastic. It’s easy to buy pili nut brittle, but once you have tasted freshly made versions, especially if done in your own home, you may never go back to buying commercial…

First start with fresh pili nuts. Not so easy to source in Manila, but if you have friends in the Bicol/Sorsogon area, they are quite common in large local markets. If you don’t mind the exorbitant price, I got these from Salcedo market for PHP300 for a small plastic container, dehydrated a bit (on purpose) and fresh to the bite and taste.

Toast them for a few minutes in a hot oven to awaken the natural oils and enhance the flavor of the nuts.

Next place a couple of cups of sugar in a pan with several tablespoons of water and put this over medium high heat (without stirring!) and watch as the edges of the sugar/water mixture start to boil and turn amber. At that point you may whirl the pan around (don’t stick any spatulas or spoons in the mixture) to mix the sugar a bit better. Watch this carefully as you can easily have burnt sugar before you know it. This is the same process for making caramelized sugar for the bottom of a leche flan pan…

When the sugar has reached a medium to medium dark amber, take the pan off the heat, add the warmed nuts (move quickly) and stir to ensure all nuts are coated with caramelized sugar and pour onto a silpat mat or pan lined with foil or parchment paper. Flatten the nuts into a single layer and leave be for a few minutes while the caramel solidifies.

When the sugar has gotten a bit hard (but not totally set), remove the silpat mat and lay the nuts/sugar on a wooden chopping board. With your bare hands or with the help of a knife, break the brittle into bite-sized pieces and cool completely and store in an airtight container. One of the downsides of living the Philippines can be the humidity, a natural enemy of brittles. These should be fine for say 5 days or so, but don’t keep them much longer than that. These didn’t last more than 3 days in our household… If you want, coat these brittles in dark chocolate for added flavor, richness and oomph!

P.S. DO NOT cut on a silpat mat, you will damage the mat forever. I learned that the hard way. When I made these spectacular looking peanut brittle sticks several years ago, I cut them with a pizza cutter and ruined a silpat mat. Bummer. :(



  1. betty q. says:

    MM…have you tried it with a pinch of baking soda?

    May 21, 2011 | 6:18 am


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  3. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. Got to make them brittle again.

    May 21, 2011 | 6:30 am

  4. tammy says:


    May 21, 2011 | 7:47 am

  5. Gej says:

    Pili! Am curious, why is it important to NOT stir the sugar/water mixture while cooking it?

    May 21, 2011 | 8:47 am

  6. Marketman says:

    Gej, sugar that is melting often “seizes up” or actually crystallizes again, and you end up with dried sugar just like you started. Other folks even counsel that you should have a wet pastry brush and brush down the sides of the pan to avoid this predicament. If you have a good thick pot that conducts heat well, you can do this without any water, but you could burn the sugar faster… Also, do this with a light colored interior to the pan, so you can tell how dark the sugar is getting. It may take a couple of tries, with the maximum loss a few cups of sugar to perfect this…

    May 21, 2011 | 9:33 am

  7. Marketman says:

    bettyq, no I haven’t, that makes the brittle more opaque right? Maybe I will try that next time… do you add a touch of butter as well?

    May 21, 2011 | 9:48 am

  8. Footloose says:

    Working with pure sugar without water also lessens crystallization even if you stir the melting sugar. But you have to work fast and please no kids in the kitchen when working with sugar. Adding a bit of acid such as citrus juice or cream of tartar also minimizes crystallization. Melting the sugar with butter produces nougatine while mixing in cream and vanilla extract is how they make Southern praline (usually with pecans). There was this old lady in our town who made foam taffy and mother suspected she added baking soda into the syrup to make it foam.

    It’s a good thing that blanched pili nuts are available now. We use to take off the skin ourselves before and it was as difficult as blanching filberts. The stubborn skin that would not flake off were usually spoiled nuts and roughly half the quantity.

    May 21, 2011 | 10:16 am

  9. Marketman says:

    Footloose, I am thinking you mean peeling this version of the nuts, like blasted filberts, I agree, but actually, there is a REALLY easy way to peel the pili, here. Sister used those in a pili cake, I think, here. It was delicious and very similar to the ones we grew up with at home…

    May 21, 2011 | 10:49 am

  10. betty q. says:

    Yup, it is more opaque, MM and gotta have butter in it. …BUTTER RULES!

    Howver, having 2 people pull it thinly works best …but you have to have those silicon gloves!

    May 21, 2011 | 11:08 am

  11. Gej says:

    Thanks so much for the info! It’s really great that you have several posts on pili. I think the nut, and the pulp, are arguably among the undiscovered food treasures of the Philippines.

    Betty q! Kamusta?!

    May 21, 2011 | 11:44 am

  12. anonymous paul says:

    Baking powder does make it opaque but with the addition of the bubbles in the hot sugar makes for a more crumbly product. Less tasking on the teeth. But I quite like the ones without. Just looks nicer. I would try sprinkling some coarse salt on those for complexity. But here’s a brittle I made with bacon.


    Maybe you can experiment with your pork products as well.

    May 21, 2011 | 1:30 pm

  13. betty q. says:

    Oy, Gej…I am getting better…still have to take it easy for the next 3 months. Oh… you have to make MM’s Chinese pickled mangoes….nakaka-addict! I made a big botelya a few months ago and I couldn’t wait to let it cure for 2 days. NAUBOS!

    May 21, 2011 | 1:30 pm

  14. millet says:

    i could snack the whole day on pili brittle alternated with the drunken mangoes. Whee!

    May 21, 2011 | 3:05 pm

  15. betty q. says:

    MM…if you have the book Everything Tastes Better with Bacon by Sara Perry…she has a recipe for Bacon Toffee that I have been meaning to try…I think it is Bacon over the top!….sweet, smoky, salty yumminess! Similar to Anonymous Paul’s Brittle with Bacon without the nuts.

    For years, I have been trying to replicate See’s peanut brittle. I think I am getting close. When I have nailed it, you willl be among the first ones to know plus 100 people more!

    May 21, 2011 | 4:14 pm

  16. Art19b says:

    We have several pili trees in our backyard that was like an homage to my dads roots in bicol. When the fruit turns purple, its harvest time!!!! And getting those nuts out of their hard shell is indeed a challenge. But the smell and taste of freshly made pili brittle is the smell of home. We add a touch of butter in ours and mix whole pili with chopped for texture. Have you every tried making your own tablea from fresh coco beans? Our trees are almost ready to bear fruit and that’s our next project and would appreciate any info if you have any. Thanks for posting MM.

    May 21, 2011 | 8:33 pm

  17. markymarc says:

    Hi guys!
    Here’s another thing that makes pili interesting.
    Who would have thought pili as an ingredient in perfume!

    May 21, 2011 | 8:55 pm

  18. Cestlavie says:

    Hi marketman, what is the best hopia to get from Manila as pasalubong here abroad? I have tried eng bee tin but did not like it very much. Thanks!!!

    May 21, 2011 | 10:36 pm

  19. Nina says:

    OMG, Betty, See’s peanut brittle……they’re the most addictive brittle I’ve ever had. Can’t wait for you to perfect it…….please, please eventhough it’s not perfect yet, may I/we have the recipe? Thanks.

    May 21, 2011 | 11:36 pm

  20. Footloose says:

    @Markymarc, Now that’s really interesting, thanks for the link. When Terre d’Hermès cologne first came out, I thought it smelled like the caulking that boat builders in my town used which was a mixture of local resin called sahing and slaked lime. As it turned out, perfumers use benzoin or styrax extracted from cheap tropical resins as ingredient for expensive perfumes that they sell at thousandfold mark-ups. Come to think of it, pili nut’s flavour is exactly that resiny fragrance.

    Btw, it might interest people to know that another still important ingredient for the perfume industry, ylang-ylang was first distilled and exported from Manila as early as the 1850s. Lamentably, the bulk of present day supply no longer comes from us, rather 80% of it comes from the Comoros where the French introduced ylang-ylang around the end of the nineteenth century. I vaguely remember a comment coming up hereabouts that ylang-ylang groves were intentionally thrashed at the start of the American occupation of the Philippines. I wonder now on what motive other than the obvious, economic sabotage?

    May 22, 2011 | 6:11 am

  21. Gej says:

    Bett q – That’s good. With all the healthy food you prepare, you’ll be back in condition right away! You’re reading my mind. We just harvested from the mango tree, so we have enough material (and containers, the ones I purchased for the pickled carrots some months back) for the pickled mangoes.

    markymarc, Footloose – another cologne whose scent is very much that of pili is Fahrenheit , from thirty years ago.
    these countries/companies purchase our raw material for a song, then process it till it’s even more expensive than gold. We better do it ourselves.

    May 22, 2011 | 7:14 am

  22. EbbaBlue says:

    My folks and relatives are from Quezon – Mauban and Calauag and fresh pili nuts are abundant. Last year, one of the parents of my children bible class gave me about 3 bucket full of pili and my cousin laboriously cut shell, washed the nuts and dried in the sun. She then made me “bukayo with pili” as well as “santan” or coconut jam, and then bottled it which I brought back here in Houston. Well, I have half bottle left in my fridge and it really taste different than those sold in stores.

    My aunt makes a real thin pili nuts which she use to sell. She told me a different way to do it. After pouring the caramel-syrup into the nuts, she tilts the wooden board (with the banana leaves) and let the syrup go – para nga naman nu-mipis. She tilts it again on the other side, and etc. I don’t know if she add baking soda, pero I know she adds Dairy Creme.

    May 23, 2011 | 8:13 pm

  23. cynthia says:

    Ms BettyQ can i ask for your chocolate cake recipe? Thank you so much. God bless.
    E-mail: cynthcru@yahoo.com

    Jun 13, 2011 | 6:48 pm

  24. JeremySpeaks says:

    My method: sugar + water/sugar + corn syrup, heat up to soft ball stage or to 250 degrees centigrade if you have thermometer, add nuts and butter, heat to brittle string stage or 300 degrees, turn off the stove. Quickly add baking soda. Pour into preheated sheet pan lined with silicon mat or parchment paper. I tend to just undercook a little bit on the stove and put it in the oven if the sugar is not there yet. The heated pan ensures thin layer or brittle sugar.
    This can be done in a microwave is well, my preferred way.

    Mar 1, 2013 | 2:28 am


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