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

December 12, 2018

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

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.

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*). Adapted very slightly from Genius Desserts (Ten Speed Press, 2018).

Genius Recipes

Makes: about 16 pieces
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 15 min

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups (170g) whole blanched almonds (or 1 1/2 cups/170g slivered, but not sliced)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225g) sugar
  • 1 large potato, washed and dried well, and cut in half crosswise
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Using a knife, very finely chop the almonds into bits about half the size of a grain of rice. Scoop the chopped almonds into a bowl, leaving the smallest dusty particles behind.
  2. Spread a large sheet of parchment paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil flat on a heat-safe counter or board and smear the parchment evenly with the vegetable oil.
  3. Combine the sugar and 1/4 cup (60g) water in a small saucepan with a light-colored interior (preferably lightweight) and melt the sugar over medium-high heat without stirring, but very gently swirling the pan occasionally if needed to get the sugar to color evenly. When the melted sugar turns a rich tawny gold color, 8 to 10 minutes, add the chopped almonds and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, until the almond and caramelized sugar mixture turns a very dark brown, about 2 minutes more. Pour it, immediately but carefully, over the oiled parchment paper. Pick up one half of the potato and use the cut side to smooth the hot praline until it’s about 1/8 inch (3mm) thick.
  4. When the croccante is cool enough to touch but not fully cool, flip or slide the slab onto a cutting board and peel off the parchment. Cut the slab into roughly 2-inch (5cm) diamond shapes and let cool completely. Store in an airtight jar in a dry, cool place at room temperature. Any leftover bits are delicious ground up and sprinkled over ice cream.
  5. GENIUS TIP: THE EASIEST WAY TO CLEAN A STICKY, SUGARY MESS Next time you have a pot or tart pan that looks hopelessly globbed with caramel residue, douse it in boiling water. For cooking vessels, it’s especially easy: simply fill them with water, bring them to a boil, and then carefully pour the water down the drain. The stickiness will be freed, too. Repeat if needed. I bet more people would make caramel if they knew about this time- and agita-saver.

More Great Recipes:
Candy|Italian|Almond|Serves a Crowd|5 Ingredients or Fewer|Make Ahead|Father's Day|Friendsgiving|Halloween|Mother's Day|Party|Thanksgiving

Reviews (64) Questions (3)

64 Reviews

CHeeb January 28, 2019
I have found that having a lid for the pan you are making the caramel brittle in helps create a steam shower down the sides of the pan. It may take a little longer for the sugar to brown,but it helps prevent those stray crystals from forming and causing your sugar to seize. I ruined sugar even with a wet pastry brush to wipe down the inside of my pan,because my brush had sugar crystals in it. The lid is a great trick,especially if it is glass and you can watch the color form and your swirling through the clear lid.
 
robyn F. January 28, 2019
Thanks for the tip!
 
Jeff January 23, 2019
I tried 3 glorious times and each one was a crystalline finale...ended up more like Belgian pearl sugar so guess who’s making almondy liège waffles this weekend?
 
Kristen M. January 26, 2019
Jeff, I'm sorry to hear it and I'm very impressed with your patience! I think if I'd tried 3 times I'd be a lot more grumpy than you. The only things I'd think to recommend are just really leaving the sugar alone while it darkens, or trying the suggestion below of adding a few drops of lemon juice to the sugar to help create an invert sugar that's a bit more stable. But those liège waffles sound like a great way to go, too.
 
Gwen January 12, 2019
I made this last night and followed the recipe as it was written. I was worried about the sugar recrystallizing, but I used the times given along with the sugar's appearance, and never stirred anything until the chopped slivered almonds were added. I was pleased with the results, and decided to order the book the recipe was taken from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I'd also ordered one of the Dansk sauce pans with the white interior before Christmas, and used that for the sugar.
 
susan January 2, 2019
Disappointing. Took 3 tries for it to not recrystallize on me and then the results were only ok. Hard to get it to darken to the same point as shown on the video. Tasted one note and just not as rich and flavorful as when done with a bit of cream and/or butter in it.
 
Kristen M. January 5, 2019
I'm sorry to hear it, Susan. I'm surprised that the color didn't get dark enough, which would help with a deeper flavor—in my experience it keeps going one way until it's scorched. I hope you can use the crystallized stuff as an ice cream topping or in other ways.
 
Christine T. December 28, 2018
I'm so disappointed to have wasted $10 of almonds. My sugar mix never turned tawny, so I added the almonds after about 10 minutes. Nothing had happened after six minutes, then everything seized up badly. Still white. It was not even usable as topping. But the video was charming and the clean-up trick worked perfectly.
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Christine, I'm so sorry to hear it. Did your sugar ever melt and look clear, like simple syrup? If not, it sounds like it may have started crystallizing even before the almonds were added—otherwise, it might have just needed a little more time to turn gold. Timing will depend on so many things, so following the visual cues is always a safer bet than the timing cues. I'm surprised it wasn't suitable as an topping—did you try bashing it into crumbles with a food processor or in a Ziploc bag? Regardless, I'm sorry it was a frustrating experience for you!
 
Christine T. January 3, 2019
Yes, it did turn clear, just never golden. It was not "bashable" because it was already quite crumbly when cooled. And the flavor was not good. But stay tuned: not willing to be defeated by a pan of sugar, I tried again and it was perfect. As another reviewer suggested, I turned the heat up after adding the almonds, and voila!
 
Kristen M. January 5, 2019
Hooray! Thanks for trying again and for reporting back, sugar conqueror.
 
Tasti D. December 25, 2018
I used a stainless steel saucepan and had some problems. I'm wondering if the stainless steel was the problem. I watched the video a few times and followed the recipe carefully, but my sugar never caramelized beyond the "tawny gold" color once I added the almonds. It just bubbled up and evaporated.
 
Tasti D. December 28, 2018
OK, I tried again and had to crank the heat on my stove to "super boil" to get the sugar to darken once the almonds entered the pan. The color looked better, but it didn't have any bitter or smoky notes.
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Tasti, thanks for your commitment and for reporting back! Stainless steel itself should be just fine. It sounds like the first time, the sugar crystallized on you: When it looks like it's drying out and evaporating, that's usually what's going on—the sugar is turning back into solid crystal form from liquid caramel. If you make it again, I'd recommend disturbing it as little as possible while it cooks and caramelizes to avoid introducing any sugar from the sides of the pan or other bits that could encourage crystallizing, and to let it hang out on that super boil setting a little longer if you want more bitter, smoky notes.
 
Hallie G. December 19, 2018
I really recommend watching the video before starting! I just tried this recipe exactly as written and it came out perfectly. Cutting it quickly turned out to be a bit of a workout, but I think these will be a big hit. Sending out as part of my holiday care packages to friends and fam.
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Thanks for reporting back, Hallie—so glad it worked out well for you!
 
Renee December 18, 2018
Regarding the sugar to nuts ratio: It's due to the sugar seizing. The ratio is correct. When I made it I carefully put the sugar in the pan, making certain no sugar was on the sides. I then very carefully poured the water over the sugar and NEVER stirred it. I placed it over medium heat and didn't swirl or move the pan until the end when it started changing color. At that point I barely swirled it, added the nuts when the color was right and stirred until it had darkened. As the recipe says, this only took about two minutes. Everything turned out perfectly. The potato behaved exactly as it did in the video and the cooled croccante cut up beautifully. I'm convinced the sugar/nut ration issue is only due to the sugar seizing. Hope this helps.
 
Stefanie A. December 22, 2018
Thanks for this Renee. I just tried this recipe and the sugar crystallized. After reading your suggestion I think I probably swirled too much. Going to try again later today.
 
Renee December 22, 2018
Stefanie, I hope your next try is successful because this is so delicious. I'm going to make it again very soon. Good luck!
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Renee, thanks so much for your input—you summed the ratio issue up perfectly!
 
robyn F. December 18, 2018
I tried this with castor sugar - the sugar turned the right color but the almond to sugar ratio was not right - there were way too many almonds, not enough liquid. Will save as a topping for ice-cream and buy regular sugar today to try it again. Any input much appreciated...I thought castor sugar is just superfine sugar? Also would coconut or beet sugar work?
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Robyn, just making sure you saw Renee's comment above about the ratio—she's exactly right!
 
robyn F. January 2, 2019
Thank you Kristen and Renee. I did watch the video - twice before attempting the recipe. I didn't know if the castor sugar I used was an issue. Mine did turn the tawny color but then totally seized. I did not stir it. Anyway I will try it again one day and appreciate your feedback on it and your recipes always. On the other hand I did make the chocolate cloud cake and it was a dream! My new go to flourless chocolate cake. We have had two recipes in the family for many years - the James Beard Chocolate roll up and Winners Chocolate Cake which may have been a Fine Cooking recipe. This beats both hands down. SWOON and might I add that I consumed far too much of it myself over the next three days as I made it for just the three of us. Lol. ;-)<br />
 
Cat December 17, 2018
To everyone asking about using hazelnuts: I did and something was off. I went by weight measurements, so maybe they weigh less than almonds? Either way, I ended up with an off ratio of caramel to nuts - it's much more of a sticky nut situation than a brittle. No big deal, I added it to my granola and it's delicious but there was no way that could be cut into the pretty shapes shown here. I recommend watching the video and trying to get that ratio looking right. I redid it with almonds and measured by volume this time: I think it should call for 240g of sugar going by my rather precise scale! Maybe that makes a difference too. Delicious either way!
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Cat, thanks so much for sharing your experience—and for being flexible when hazelnuts didn't behave as planned. I haven't tried a hazelnut variation myself, but your reasoning that they're lighter than almonds makes sense to me, which is good to know for this recipe. (I'm assuming the caramel stayed liquid for you—crystallizing is another reason the caramel:nuts ratio might seem off.) The gram discrepancy is likely because, frustratingly, different brands of cup/volume measures can vary, one of the many reasons to love baking by weight!
 
Jessica L. December 16, 2018
This turned out wonderfully!! I didn't have almonds on hand so made using pumpkin seeds and a bit of hemp seeds as well! It is sweet, nutty and almost buttery from the hemp. The potato trick is amazing! Came out glossy and dark but not burnt tasting! Thank you, this will make a great snack or gift on Christmas.
 
Kristen M. December 16, 2018
Love the hemp idea! Thanks for reporting back.
 
maria December 16, 2018
I made this once with almonds and a second time with peanuts. Both times I also had the sugar seize and crystallize in some lumps. I smashed them up with my wooden spoon. Still very tasty. However, I’m finding I need to use about half the nuts this calls for. I used half the almonds and I had a nice brittle. I used more peanuts and basically I have glazed peanuts, not brittle. Just seems like the ratio is off.
 
Kristen M. December 16, 2018
Hi Maria—if the sugar crystallizes, it definitely will look like too many nuts, but it has more to do with the caramel essentially drying up—if the sugar stays molten, the ratio should work. (Check out the 2 different versions side by side in the video above.) Glad it was still tasty and that playing around with fewer nuts worked well for you!
 
FrugalCat December 15, 2018
I used walnuts and turbinado sugar. Due to the color of the sugar to start with, it was tough to tell when it was done cooking. I didn't have parchment paper, so I used non-stick foil over a layer of heavy duty foil. The potato trick was genius- we actually had sweet potatoes left over from Thanksgiving. And the caramel/water cleaning hack? I was always hesitant to make caramel as it is such a mess to clean. No more will I say that!!
 
Renee December 15, 2018
Just made this. Turned out exactly as it did in the video. It has a beautiful sweet/bitter taste with deep rich notes. I will be making this again and again. Oh, Marcella, I can't imagine how much Victor misses you.
 
Renee December 15, 2018
I just made it. It turned out exactly as it did in the video. The flavor is perfectly sweet/bitter with a deep rich note. Will be making it again and again. Oh, Marcella, I can't imagine how much Victor misses you. <br />
 
Matt H. December 15, 2018
We have silicone spatulas now. Wasting a potato seems… wasteful.
 
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Hi Matt, if you watch the video or read the original article, you'll see that even an oiled silicone spatula doesn't work as well as a potato—plenty will stick. Of course if you prefer to lose some croccante to losing a potato, just go with the spatula. (Though you can always still cook the potato, trimming off the part that has candy residue.)
 
Yoyo December 14, 2018
I just made this. Did not turn out well. The second I added the almonds the sugar just crystallized. It looked like there wasn’t enough sugar mixture. Turned out like granola. Tasted good though.
 
soher December 14, 2018
I had the same experience, looking forward to the answer. <br />TIA
 
Cecile December 14, 2018
Yeah me too. It instantly sieged and crystallized. So I have a lump of almonds and sugar. It will be good as a topping but that’s it.
 
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Hi all, I'm sorry to hear that happened—it's happened to me before, too! (If you watch the video above, I brought in some croccante that had crystallized on me and gave pointers about what to do to avoid it (and what to do to re-brand it, if it does). It can help to be really careful to swirl gently and not let any of the drying crystals on the sides get reintroduced, since they will inspire the rest of the sugar to join them. Also, stirring too early or using the same bowl that you used to measure the sugar to hold your chopped almonds can bring in unwelcome crystals. If it does happen, I recommend letting it cool, then bashing it up in the food processor or a Ziploc bag with a rolling pin to make ground croccante to sprinkle on ice cream and other desserts.
 
soher December 19, 2018
SUCCESS!!! A friend suggested a light squeeze of lemon juice before I put the sugar in the saucepan. Worked like a charm. I also used a half lemon to smooth the Croccante after I poured it out of the saucepan.
 
Ann December 13, 2018
Just made this deliciousness but left it on a bit too long. I have no idea what croccante should taste like but I’m fairly certain my batch is crossing the line to over cooked.<br />I was attempting to arrive at the color of the croccante in Genius Desserts, which is very, very dark, but when I replayed the video your croccante looks lighter.<br />In retrospect I should have let the mixture darken a bit longer before adding the nuts. That way, I would have eventually gotten to a darker brown color without browning the nuts so much. I think they, rather than the carmelized sugar, were starting to burn, lending the slightly burnt flavor I’m tasting. The diamond shape effort was somewhat challenging also for this batch. Various shapes and sizes are the norm here.<br />I am happily eating it anyway, but next time—and there will be one—I’m not cooking it quite so much.
 
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Thanks for reporting back, Ann! I hear you on the nuts verging on over-toasted—I've crossed that line before myself, but luckily they're easy to keep practicing and perfecting :) The diamond shape effort might be made easier by cutting a tad sooner, if you were getting a lot of shattering.
 
Jessica L. December 12, 2018
Can coconut oil be used instead?
 
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Sure!
 
pvanhagenlcsw December 12, 2018
What a gift Marcella continues to be. Perfect use for a mezzaluna. Lovely little something sweet and crunchy and so simple. My first try was not as dark as in the video but next time I won’t panic and remove it from the heat so readily.<br />
 
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Great call on the mezzaluna! I'm sure it was lovely, in spite of being lighter in color.