How is everyone? I hope you are keeping a social distance, staying home and washing your hands every few seconds. We all want to do our very best to stay healthy. Things we used to do without thinking, like grocery shopping, have become major considerations. Here in the U.S., as we enter week two of “shelter in place,” the best way to safely acquire food and what to eat on a daily basis becomes more of a focus.
Comfort foods and simple recipes play an important role right now. Croccante, (krok-on-ta, rhymes with picante) Italian caramelized almonds, fits both criteria. This classy and versatile dessert, has only two ingredients. Yes, just two; almonds and granulated sugar. Well, you need a 1/4 cup of water, but that doesn’t count, right?
Although there are just two ingredients, there’s plenty of room for debate. Into what size should the almonds be cut? Should they be left whole or slivered? For this recipe, I chopped them coarsely and it was perfect. I think next time, I might try leaving the almonds whole as in the Croccante di Natale, the Christmas sweet from Abruzzo.
Perhaps you want to experiment as well. You can also take a stab at different nuts such as pistachio or cashews or, for something over the top, try lemon brittle, from one of my favorite cooking websites, Great Italian Chefs.
We won’t call this almond brittle, because we don’t bring the sugar to the hard candy stage. In this recipe we caramelize the sugar, so it solidifies, but not to the hard crack stage of 300 degrees F. This praline recipe is much less fussy than brittle and does not require any special equipment like a candy thermometer. It’s much easier on the teeth, as well!
Buon appetito. I would love to hear about your creative modifications! Please send a comment!
Croccante - Italian Caramelized Almonds
- 1 ½ cup almonds, blanched, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup granluated sugar
- 1 wedge lemon for spreading
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
- Prepare the almonds: To blanch and peel almonds: bring 2 cups water to a boil and add almonds. Boil for 1 minute then drain. After a couple minutes, when the almonds have cooled, squeeze them out of their skins and discard the skins. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes at 450 or until golden brown. Cool and coarsely chop the almonds.
- Prepare a cookie sheet by covering with aluminum foil or a thin coat of peanut or olive oil. Set aside.
- Put sugar and ¼ cup water in a saucepan and melt the sugar. Simmer gently until the sugar is completely liquified and golden in color, about 15 minutes. Don't stir. Hold the pot handle and occasionally swirl the mixture gently. Next, add the almonds and stir to coat well. Lower the heat and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Be careful not to let it burn or overcook.
- Remove from the heat and immediately turn the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet. Use a lemon wedge or half a potato to smooth the hot mixture so it's about 1/2 inch thick. Let cool.
- You have several choices at this point. To eat like candy or as a stand alone dessert, cut into small diamond shape chunks. Alternately, crush in a food processor to make a coarse powder. Sprinkle the powder over ice cream, cakes or puddings. The uses are limitless! My partner likes to just eat them straight out of the jar when he wants something quick and sweet to go with his coffee.
Looking for more dessert inspiration? Perhaps try these:
Hazelnut Orange Biscotti
Incredibly Easy Chocolate Cake
Italian Ring Cake with carrots and brown sugar
Flourless Italian Cookies