When we manage to make treats for Christmas, we usually make fudge and buckeyes, sometimes rum balls or peanut brittle, and of course rugelach. Last year, looking for something a little more decorative, I tried chocolate caramelized almonds from Smitten Kitchen. You don’t need a candy thermometer to make them, and you can use whatever kind of sugar or sprinkles you like, so they are adaptable gifts for just about any holiday.
Here’s the ingredients list from Smitten Kitchen:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup whole almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- Approximately 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sanding or coarse sugar, or sprinkles to coat
You will want a good, heavy pot and some parchment paper or silicone pads for this, too.
I’m trying very hard not to run afoul of recipe copyright laws here, so I’m going to send you right to her page to get the detailed directions. Basically you put sugar and water in a pot and bring it to a simmer, add the almonds and simmer them until they’re caramelized, stir in the salt, and then spread the almonds out on a pan covered with parchment paper.
Put the pan in the freezer for a few minutes until they are set. Then break them up and dip them in melted chocolate; then roll the chocolate-coated almonds in various fancy coatings. Let them set again, and then you can store them for quite a long time at room temperature.
Here’s my reason for writing a whole post about it: In the detailed instructions for caramelizing the almonds, she says,
“Once the liquid has fully evaporated, it will become sandy and you will think something has gone wrong; it has not. Continue stirring and the sandiness will dissolve into a bronzed but clear liquid; this is the caramel.”
I was glad of the reassurance, and prepared myself not to freak out. But then! I freaked out anyway! Weird stuff happens in that pot!!! So I’m sharing the photos of the caramelization process here, so you can see how it goes and maybe not panic like I did.
Here we are simmering, fine, very good:
then it got thicker, and yes, there are soap-like bubbles forming:
the the liquid was just about evaporated, and all was well:
then, sure enough, it started to get dry and a little bit cakey, and I was like, “Wow, she was right! That is sandy.”
Then it got dry and even more sandy, and I thought, “Good thing she warned me, because this does not look normal at all. I would definitely be worrying right now.”
Then this happened. And it went on and on. Just kept on being sandy. I didn’t stop stirring, but it was the stirring of futility. I assumed the candy gods were onto me, and knew I had no business in any kitchen, smitten or otherwise. Look at this!
Yeah, these are totally ruined. Great, now they’re clumping. No one said anything about clumping. Dammit. Almonds are expensive! Dammit!
But wait! Down there in the center of the pot, under all the nuts, there’s a little, kind of syrupy patch!
Well, hallelujah! Those little bastiches are caramelizing after all, aren’t they.
And there they were, coated with caramel, just like Smitten Kitchen said. So I put them on parchment paper, slid them in the freezer, and went to sit down for a bit.
I was so emotionally spent by this time that I left them in the freezer for a few days, rather than the suggested five minutes, until I did the next step. I don’t recommend this, as they got a little soggy; but you will be the best judge of what kind of load you can carry at this point in the evening. It still worked, but they weren’t as crunchy as they might have been.
Now I’ll send you back to Smitten Kitchen for the rest of the directions. You’re going to pour the nuts into melted chocolate, stir to coat, and then pick out the almonds and roll them around in your sugars or sprinkles or whatever. It’s messy and time-consuming, especially if you’re making a large batch, so don’t think you can just zoop-zoop-zoop (as my mother used to say) and be done with it.
The good news is, you can make them ahead of time and then store them at room temperature for a long time. Here’s the finished product:
I wish I had a brighter picture of the finished product. They were so pretty, especially the sugar-coated ones! They looked like little Christmas gems. (I buy up expensive seasonal-themed sugars and sprinkles after holidays, when they are marked way down. This doesn’t work, as the kids tend to develop an unconquerable hunger for tiny little bats in May, but it’s a good theory.)
I think these almonds make nice treats on their own, or they would make lovely accents to a package of fudge or cookies. Just keep telling yourself, “It’s supposed to look this way,” and you’ll probably be right.