Serious Eats: Sweets
BraveTart: Make Your Own Butterfingers
Imagine, if you will, a cage match between Butterfinger, 5th Avenue, and Clark Bar. Who would emerge victorious to claim the crispiest, crunchiest, peanut butteriest crown? Moreover, how might we then usurp the throne for ourselves? Let us first define the rules of engagement.
Crispety: a pleasantly brittle texture which requires little effort to eat. Crispness tends to demonstrate a degree of subtlety, refinement or delicacy.
Crunchety, however, indicates a degree of brittleness so intense the very act of chewing creates a sound audible to bystanders.
Peanut buttery, a classic example of advertising equivocation, describes qualities evocative of but not necessarily derived from peanut butter. For example: in a contest between Nutella, almond butter, and yogurt, almond butter would be peanut butteriest, whereas in a contest between yogurt, popcorn, and candy canes, yogurt would win.
Reigning champ Butterfinger certainly brings crunchety to the table. It has serious bite. A mighty crunch yielding to crispety delight, power bowing before beauty. But peanut buttery? Um...Only vaguely. I mean, I get it. Compared to aforementioned yogurt, popcorn and candy canes it's the peanut butteriest! Other qualities worth mentioning: the freakish orange color, waxy chocolate-flavored coating, and creepy GMO ingredients that got this candy bar banned from Germany.
Sleeper bar 5th Avenue has definite crunch, less so than Butterfinger but in a I-probably-won't-chip-my-teeth sort of way you can really get behind. It has a delightfully crispety quality and a peanut forward flavor. If the magnitude of awesome contained in retro commercials counted for extra points, 5th Avenue would win in a landslide.
Underdog Clark Bar doesn't pack much punch in the crunch department, but makes up for it with the extreme delicacy of its crispety crispness. It shatters into a million flaky bits, leaves of candy showering down like confetti at a parade. It has a pronounced molasses flavor, but not much to call peanut buttery.
So the match ends in a trifecta: Butterfinger taking crunchety, Clark Bar winning crispety, and 5th Avenue with peanut buttery. Now, to Dr. Frankensteining our way to the union of all three. Reverse engineering the Butterfinger has proved so difficult that millions have simply given up, debasing themselves with melted candy corn mashed up with peanut butter. That's like taking your kid to an abandoned warehouse and calling it Disneyland.
How much denial does it take to chew a wad of candy corn infested peanut butter and conclude, "OMG, tastes just like the real thing!"? It may very well taste most excellent, and I won't hesitate to declare candy corn both my favorite candy and corn, but the egregious lack of crispety and crunchety, two-thirds of Butterfinger's identity, pushes my buttons too hard.
With the candy bar set that low, I thought about dipping some peanut brittle in chocolate and calling it a day. But no. Butterfingers was the buried treasure in my trick or treat bag and Clark Bars the only thing in the Honesty Box I'd pay for when no one was looking. I owed it to crispety and crunchety to stick it to candy corn once and for all.
My first attempt entailed making peanut brittle loaded with baking soda, hoping enough bubbles would aerate the structure. The result brought me one step closer perfecting a peanut butter jawbreaker recipe, but left me a thousand light years from Butterfinger.
Second batch involved peanut butter puff pastry, which in hindsight seems stupid, but at the time constituted an attempt to prove I could get flakey and peanut buttery in the same place at the same time. While I did just that, without crispety and crunchety it was a honky tonk parade.
But it got me thinking about lamination in puff pastry, the way butter and dough fold together to create hundreds of superfine layers. Could I make laminated peanut brittle? Hadn't I done something like that before?
After some brain scratching, I remembered a French confection called leaf croquant. I'd only made it once before, about twelve years ago. It traditionally contains ground almonds, obscuring its Butterfinger nature. But once I made the connection, I only had to hammer out the ratio of peanuts, molasses and corn flakes. Yes, corn flakes.
It tastes like a Butterfinger but flakier. Like a 5th Avenue but crunchier. Like a Clark Bar but peanut butterier. Everything you ever loved about those bars, but covered in your favorite chocolate. If only I could figure out what to call it.
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.