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
1 1/4 cups
(170g) whole blanched almonds (or 1 1/2 cups/170g slivered, but not sliced)
plus 2 tablespoons (225g) sugar
large potato, washed and dried well, and cut in half crosswise
In This Recipe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore.