Brittle Baker Is Competitive Cook

Woman's Christmas tradition rooted in misfortune 20 years ago

Can you call it Christmas without some homemade peanut brittle?

One Plano baker doesn't think so, and she's making much more than holiday happiness.

Toni Steger started cashing in on her childhood when she had no money 20 years ago. 

"I lost my job right right after Thanksgiving and, of course, I didn't have very much money for gifts for my friends," she said.

"But I did have my aunt's peanut brittle recipe," Steger said.

Now she has a tradition. She's been cooking the brittle as a gift every year since.

"It's very popular and very easy to make," she said.

Not much has changed in two decades, although Steger adjusted the recipe for newer microwaves.

But to understand Steger is to know something about the last 12 years. The brittle baker is always looking toward the next batch.

"As the state fair cooks say, 'One ribbon, and you're hooked," she said.

Steger, who has won the State Fair of Texas' best cookie contest, started competing in 1998.

"I've done cooking all my life and thought that was something that I would really like to be doing," she said.

She has lost track of how many times she's won best of show, best competitor, first, second and many more.

She used to compete in every category -- including the crazy competitions.

"I have entered the Spam contest," Steger said. "Several times I've came close to winning, but have never placed."

She used to enter every cooking contest offered at the state fair.

You can imagine the prep -- "15 pounds of butter, 10 pounds of sugar and 10 pounds of flour."

And she has to be careful not to forget one other important thing -- "a Stouffers for myself, because I don't have time to cook for myself."

Steger said competitive cooking is more than just fun.

"It kind of becomes a hobby, an obsession," she said.

But it does come at a cost. To her it's as sweet as circumstance.

Toni's Microwave Peanut Brittle
1 cup raw Spanish peanuts
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix together peanuts, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a two-quart mixing bowl. Microwave on high for six minutes; stirring well after three minutes. Add butter and vanilla; blending well with a wooden spoon. Microwave on high for two minutes. Add baking soda and stir until foamy. Pour onto a buttered cookie sheet, spreading thin. Let cool and break into small pieces. Store in an airtight container.

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