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Author Notes: Every year around this time, my mother makes candied and chocolate-covered almonds, coated in those tiny multicolored nonpareils. For anyone else, this would mean that she has mastered the art of candy making, owns a candy thermometer, knows how to temper chocolate, and is generally a kitchen perfectionist. But of course that’s not true of Mom. I admire that about her, as much as it also sometimes boggles my own sensibilities. She doesn’t get hung up on technicalities. She cooks from the heart and pure instinct, never overthinking it. And I guess I’ve learned that from her, this kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude about food. If it tastes good, Mom is happy.
My perennial cravings for messy clumps of roasted and candied almonds is absolutely a result of the batches that my mother would split up and tuck picturesquely amongst the holiday decor (miniature Yuletide houses made of clementine boxes, cock-eyed elves made by my father, Japanese New Year decorations, pine cones encrusted in silver glitter). She always put them in tiny little glass dishes that her insatiable antiquing conjured up every December in my childhood home. And now, in my little New York apartment, I suddenly am itching to do the same.
This method is for candied almonds. It’s simple, unfussy, and delicious. I based it off a recipe on the beautiful blog Turmeric and Saffron, for Badam Sookhteh, or Persian candied almonds traditionally eaten for Nowruz, although I changed the flavors and proportions a bit, swapping the clover honey for half Grade A amber maple syrup, half buckwheat honey, and swapping lemon zest for lime juice, and adding a touch of freshly grated nutmeg. These are just as I like them… toasty, crunchy, not too sweet, a little salty, and with the tendency to clump together so you can reach in for one almond and get five. Oh well, I guess it can’t hurt.
Finally, this method uses both a stovetop and the oven. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip it, but be sure to toast your almonds thoroughly (I was lazy and used the same sauce pan for everything, but technically it’s better to use a large skillet) before moving on to the sugar, and let the final product cool completely for maximum crunch. And by the way, don’t skip the zest. It really takes these beyond. —Katie Okamoto
Makes 2 cups
- 2 cups raw almonds, unblanched
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (I used Grade A amber)
- 2 tablespoons buckwheat honey
- 1/3 cup water
- Dash table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 a lemon's zest (for finishing)
- In a wide skillet or medium-sized saucepan, toast your almonds over medium low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. They should not be super dark if you plan to finish your almonds in the oven, and even if you don’t, watch the nuts closely as they may darken quickly and become burnt. When they have taken on a deeper golden brown color and have some spots, set aside in a dish where they’ll be handy.
- Preheat oven to 300 deg F. Cover a baking sheet in tin foil or parchment paper and set aside.
- Add the water to the sauce pan first (this is very important, or the sugar will quickly melt onto your pot, as happened to me), then add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add maple syrup and honey and stir until combined, raising the heat to medium so that the liquid is simmering. The consistency will be a watery syrup, just slightly thick when you let it fall back into the pot with a soup spoon. As the color becomes deeper golden and the liquid is beginning to drip more slowly from your spoon, add the almonds back into the pot, stir to coat, and continue to stir frequently as the liquid thickens. After 3 to 5 minutes, remove from heat.
- Transfer the almonds to the covered baking sheet, leaving excess liquid in the pan, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, stirring about halfway through. When you remove them from the oven, they will be glistening, a deeper brown, and fragrant, but still damp.
- Sprinkle with lemon zest. Let cool completely before eating. These will keep for several weeks, if you can help yourself! They’d also be great on salads, mixed into couscous, etc.