How to make chocolate caramel almonds without panicking

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.

 

 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 65: The importance of being parchment paper

Ooh, I’m in such a hurry! We’re headed out for a day trip as vacation week wraps up. I’ll just have to talk about food and skip the jokes, to save time.

SATURDAY
Chicken burgers

We decorate the tree on Christmas eve, and then we went to “midnight Mass” at 10 PM. Part of me was sad and a little irritated that the parish wasn’t giving us our rare and special twice-a-year midnight liturgy this year; but the other part was like, HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT, WOOOOO! Because we did manage to get all forty presents wrapped, but there were still ten stockings to fill . . .

SUNDAY
Christmas brunch; Pupu Platter for 15

Our traditional Christmas morning brunch is  cinnamon rolls, bacon, grapes, orange juice, and egg nog.

christmas-brunch

 

Tip: The way to keep kids from drinking egg nog until they throw up is . . . buy tiny cups. Cheers!

eggnog-small-cups

I made Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon roll dough the day before, and rolled out the rolls in the morning.

cinnamon-buns-red-pan

I made a double recipe, which was insane. I make this same mistake every year. We ended up throwing out both unused dough and uneaten cinnamon buns, and we brought a pan to my mother-in-law’s house, too.

We ordered Chinese from the restaurant down the road. We used to do the whole “Thanksgiving recreation” meal, or sometimes a glazed ham with cherries and pineapple rings, until we realized nobody wanted a huge, formal meal, and also it was kind of crappy that everyone else gets to relax and have fun on Christmas, but I was spending all day cooking. So, Pupu platter!

pupu

MONDAY
Leftover chinese food, leftover chicken burgers

Plus some extra frozen pork rolls my husband picked up because he is crazy. I also threw in some sad peppers and avocados I found in the fridge, because it felt like we hadn’t eaten vegetables in six years. Somehow the vegetables are always the first to drop out.

leftover-pupu

Finished making caramel chocolate-covered almonds from Smitten Kitchen today. This project had been lagging on and on for weeks. We eked out a few batches in time to give to teachers, and finally finished the rest on Monday.

If anyone’s interested, I have a series of photos showing exactly what the caramel should look like while it’s cooking. It goes through an alarming series of transformations, all of which are normal. Just say the word and I will share the pics.

I made the first few batches right, but then I got lazy and didn’t separate the caramelized almonds properly. So I just broke it up into clusters, rather than individual almonds and dipped those into chocolate, which was way easier and faster and just as good. I thought the gold sugar was especially pretty.

almonds-done

This recipe could be used for any time of year — just change the colors of sugar and sprinkles you use.

TUESDAY
Hamburgers, chips

Husband ran out to the store for meat while we all lazed around eating chocolate and playing video games.
We also made stained glass cookies, on the principle that it is better to make Christmas cookies late and slightly crabby then not to make Christmas cookies at all. We used this foolproof sugar cookie recipe for the dough. Then we sorted out some Jolly Ranchers by color, bagged them, and smashed them.

candy-crush

Then we cut them out and used smaller cookie cutters or knives to make cut-outs inside the cookie shapes. You’re supposed to bake the cookies part of the way, then fill them with candy bits, and then finish baking, but I forgot, and filled them before baking.

filling-cookies

They turned out great! Note the parchment paper.

cookies-baked

Look, I even made a corny pro-life cookie.

baby-cookie

That baby head-to-pelvis ratio is pretty accurate for Corrie, as I remember it.
Irene, of course, made a skull with glowing red eyes:

skull-cookie

Murry Christmas, weirdo. The key to the success of this recipe is, and I cannot stress this enough, USE PARCHMENT PAPER. Not wax paper, and not (brrr, your poor molars) tin foil. Parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, do not make these cookies!

WEDNESDAY
Bacon, Brussels sprouts, and eggs; french fries

How I love this one-pan dish from Damn Delicious. It would make a wonderful brunch, but I think it’s super for supper, too. Bacon needs balsamic honey, eggs need hot pepper, and everyone plays well with Brussels sprouts, what do you know about that?

bacon-eggs-pan

I had microwaved leftovers for breakfast the next day, and had a banner day for productivity. I owe it all to protein, and Brussels sprouts. Even kinda congealed, it was so very good.

bacon-leftovers

THURSDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs, salad

I stuck with Fannie Farmer’s recipe for meatballs, which is basically one egg and half a cup of breadcrumbs for every pound of meat, plus whatever spices and herbs. I used about 6.5 pounds of beef and a little ground turkey, and made 85 wonderful meatballs. Rather than frying them, I put them on a broiler pan and cook them in a medium-hot oven. They keep their shape and don’t get all greasy, and it’s so much easier.

meatballs-pan

Yum yum. We were pretty much snowed in all day, so I was happy to have a very hearty meal.

spaghetti-meatballs

Speaking of snowed in, here is my recipe for completely delicious hot chocolate: Put into a pot one heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder and two heaping tablespoons of sugar for every mug of hot chocolate you want. Add enough water to make a thick syrup, and mix over low heat until the sugar is all melted. Then add the milk and a glug of vanilla. Stir and heat until it’s hot.

Benny insisted on drinking out of her doll tea set. As I mentioned before, the key to success and happiness in life is and always will be TINY CUPS.

FRIDAY
I think pizza.

And now my poor family is waiting for me in the car! Happy trails. Hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas and using parchment paper like I said. I’m not kidding.