Genius Recipes

This 2-Ingredient Italian Almond Brittle Recipe Calls for a Potato—but Why?

From the great Marcella Hazan.

December 12, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by James Ransom

When people ask for my favorite recipe from Genius Desserts—the cookbook I spent two years researching and testing and writing with a whole lot of help from all of you—first, I momentarily freeze. Then, I equivocate. Define "favorite." Then, I tell them this one.

Well, to be fair to the hundred-plus others gems in the book, what I actually say is: Marcella Hazan’s Croccante was my favorite shocking discovery late one Saturday night, and has become my favorite story to tell. Not just because it’s a simple, deeply flavored brittle you can make from two ingredients (and zero candy thermometers) any time you need to pull a last-minute gift or party-enhancer out of your pantry. That's all great, but what I really love is the crazy thing you do with a potato.

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Read on to get the whole story, excerpted from Genius Desserts, a book where I hope you'll find many, many new favorites.

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Marcella Hazan’s Croccante (2-Ingredient Almond Brittle)

Though this looks like a snappy toffee that was made by an experienced pastry chef or at least a home candymaking enthusiast, its sole ingredients are sugar and almond and the only special equipment you need is a potato. No thermometer, no special-order invert sugars, no fancy molds. But that potato is the smartest, most effective way to smooth out hot praline to an even, glassy sheen—so, there, you should invest.

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Top Comment:
“I thought your presentation for Croccante was brilliant - your whole personable approach was so interesting to watch. I have been a fanatical cook for 3 years now, and must stop this to rush to the kitchen to try the recipe. Thank you so much.”
— John A.
Comment

The recipe comes from the late Marcella Hazan, who we can credit, along with her husband and coauthor Victor, for introducing much of America to regional Italian cooking—mostly in savory recipes, but in plenty of memorable desserts, too. When I wrote to Victor to ask for his favorites, croccante topped the list: “I remember someone who wanted to package this praline and distribute it as a candy,” Victor wrote. “It is addictively delicious, and I miss it very much.”

But how did Marcella get away with fine candy-making without a drawer of special equipment? When you’re not trying to land precisely on the small temperature window for the soft-crack or hard-ball stage, you don’t need the precision of a candy thermometer. Any sugar that has colored this deeply and is unadulterated by cream or butter will have surpassed the hard-crack stage and wind up crunchy and brittle-like. You need only watch the color—the caramel should be deep brown, and the almonds golden (which will indicate a rich, bittersweet caramel and well-toasted, nutty flavor, respectively). And handle it with respect and care, because you definitely don’t want it to splatter on anything that isn’t heatproof (including you).

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Victor Hazan for sharing this one with us.

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24 Comments

soher December 15, 2018
For some reason my comment, along with others, disappeared. The caramel seized as soon as I added the almonds. I didn’t stir while it was browning so I’m not sure what the problem was. Also, seemed like I needed more of the caramel as it barely coated the almonds. I’d love to try this again, any thoughts?
 
John A. December 12, 2018
This is the first time I have ever written in comments to anybody and being a male from Australia, I already feel a little out of my depth!!! I thought your presentation for Croccante was brilliant - your whole personable approach was so interesting to watch. I have been a fanatical cook for 3 years now, and must stop this to rush to the kitchen to try the recipe. Thank you so much.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
John, thanks so much for writing—I know the first time can feel like a big step! I'm so glad that the video helped demystify the process.
 
Diane P. December 12, 2018
COMING FROM ITALY WHEN MY MOTHER WOULD MAKE THIS WE CALLED TORRONE SHE WOULD USE LEMON WEDGES TO SPREAD AND THERE WAS ANOTHER FLAVOR ADDED, IT WAS SPECTACULAR
 
Virginia H. December 14, 2018
Absolutely brilliant! Now I may need to revise my plans for today!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Thank you, Diane—I love the lemon idea. Deanna (below) suggested an orange as well.
 
Annie December 12, 2018
Wow! I love how beautifully simple this recipe is. I can’t wait to make it. May I ask what sauce pan you’re using? I am awestruck at the beauty and simplicity of it!
 
TMc December 14, 2018
Dansk® Kobenstyle Saucepan
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Yes, exactly! It's the 2-quart. We sell it and my favorite little buddy, the butter warmer, in white and grey in the Food52 Shop:
https://food52.com/shop/products/3718-kobenstyle-saucepan
https://food52.com/shop/products/5090-food52-x-dansk-kobenstyle-cookware
 
Ellen S. December 12, 2018
I'm wondering what would happen if I sprinkled a little sea salt over the candy as it was cooling? I rarely enjoy sugar without a little salt.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
I don't think that could ever be a bad thing!
 
RSVPPDQ36 December 12, 2018
If you piled a second sheet of parchment and laid it over the hot candy you can use a rolling pin to smooth it out. I do this with brittle all the time.
 
RSVPPDQ36 December 12, 2018
Oiled, not plied.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Great tip—thank you!
 
mrslarkin December 12, 2018
I love croccante! It was always on our holiday dessert table, along with cookies, cakes, fruit and nuts. And espresso.

The potato idea is cool! I use a lemon half to spread the nuts. It imparts a nice citrus flavor.
 
Deanna M. December 14, 2018
Wouldn’t half an Orange be lovely too!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
LOVE this. Trying lemon (or orange) next—thanks, Mrs. L & Deanna!
 
Virginia H. December 12, 2018
Just wonderful video, sweet and honest. Always have loved Marcella Hazen, my dog-eared book is with one of my daughters, they grew up with her recipes. Making this tomorrow when I get a potato!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Thank you, Virginia—I love Marcella's work, too, and I hope that you have fun with the croccante.
 
Roger G. December 12, 2018
OK, that's simple enough even for a klutz like me. I'm gonna try this tomorrow!
thanks a lot!
 
Eric K. December 12, 2018
Ha! Same here.

Love the potato trick, Kristen.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Thanks, Roger—hope you love it, from one klutz to another. And thanks, Eric!
 
Roger G. December 17, 2018
I'm SURE, Kristen M., that you are the absolute opposite of klutz-in-the-kitchen!😁
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 18, 2018
I appreciate your confidence but I'm afraid it's true—hasn't stopped me yet!