This holiday season, and the autumn lead-up, has been a roller coaster for my family and me. Since September, I've progressed from open heart surgery through early recovery, into rehab exercising, and slowly on to a return to work and caregiving. Just when I think things are back to "normal," I am reminded that there's still a long way to go. (Note to self: Stop moving furniture and lifting crock pots!) I'm not known for patience, so getting through the holidays without baking yummy treats in my kitchen was a bigger emotional challenge to recovery than even I anticipated. Lifting all of those baking trays just wasn't in the cards this year. Over the New Year's weekend, I finally felt strong enough to make some stovetop treats, though. I decided to iron out the details on a simple recipe for sugared nuts that I tried in 2015.
I know: we're a nut-free family! But my daughter was cleared for almonds, which means that it's important for her to eat them somewhat often (not on a rigid schedule; she "outgrew" the allergy a year ago). We have one brand that doesn't cross with other tree nuts, and I decided that they'd be much tastier if they were covered in sugar. Also, we missed our usual fall outing to the Maryland RennFest, where we first tried this non-chocolate treat that I love anyway.
I made this recipe last year, but my notes were unintelligible. I vaguely remembered something about stirring longer than seemed correct. After four batches of these almonds this year, I think I figured out what I meant! Here's the very simple recipe with ideas for other flavors and some cues about how to finish the nuts to your own personal perfection. There is not a particular source for this recipe; examples along the same vein are all over the internet. Enjoy!
3 cups raw almonds (I used an entire bag of Trader Joe's raw almonds, closer to 3.5 cups)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
lots of cinnamon (if I had to measure, at least 1-2 Tbsp)
1/4 cup water
ALSO HAVE READY
One cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment, one medium saucepan, and one wooden spoon or spatula
My most successful attempt used only the above-listed ingredients, but I've also used the following spice mix and loved it...but needed better directions.
2 Tbsp cinnamon; pinches of salt and of cloves, ginger, and cayenne; 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and allspice
In a medium saucepan, combine the almonds, sugar, and spices of choice.
Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to coat the almonds with the dry ingredients.
Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil on high heat.
As the pan heats up, continue to stir the almonds in a folding motion. They will look shiny but the coating will not stick yet.
As the liquid starts to boil, it will thicken and start to stick to the almonds. Keep stirring/folding. I turn the heat to medium high (6 out of 8 on my burner knob) at this point.
The water and sugar will continue to thicken and bubble and head into candy-making stages. Eventually, the liquid-sugar will be a thick and shiny coating on the almonds. At this point, you can turn the nuts out onto wax paper to cool (see THINGS TO REMEMBER, below).
When these cool (it takes awhile), they will be stuck together. You can break them apart and store (or gift) them in canning jars---fresh for up to 3 weeks. I've seen these called "candied almonds" online...like a smooth caramel coating.
You can continue stirring/folding past this shiny stage. You might worry about logical concerns here, like burning the bottom of your pan or completely frying the almonds. Never fear. Leaving the heat on simply takes the sugar coating past hard crack or caramel stage and into crystallization, or "frosting."
Don't stop stirring here! Soon, and quickly, your shiny almonds will begin to dull and there will be no sign of liquid (even the thick sugary liquid) left in the pan. Now, turn off the heat and pour these almonds onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment to cool.
These crystallized sugared almonds cool more quickly, and in separate pieces, than the shiny version. They also can be stored in sealed containers for up to 3 weeks, if they last that long.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
If you like your sugared nuts shiny and crunchy and stuck together, stop stirring and pour the nuts onto wax paper as soon as the sugar crystals dissolve and the liquid has bubbled and thickened. But...if you are trying to make almonds covered in grainy sugar coating (my goal, to match the RennFest example), you have to keep stirring well past when you think that you are done.
An added benefit to the dull, crystallized version is that the nuts themselves soften a touch. Whereas the shiny version is a hard crunch on your teeth, the gritty version is a more chewy option that my daughter with braces could (carefully) try, too.