The croccante di mandorle essentially means Christmas. Its flavours, and the aroma that would surround and fill my family home during the Christmas holidays are pretty much printed in my DNA.
Year after year, as far back as I can remember, I would see mamma Mariolina preparing many croccante di mandorle in the kitchen to give as gifts to family friends. Many of them would start dropping hints about how lovely it would be to try her famous croccante di mandorle weeks before Christmas. The dining room table would gradually fill up with these colourful beauties, all wrapped up in smart paper and red ribbons.
Croccante di mandorle is a labour of love. It may only need three ingredients and take 40 minutes in total to prepare and put together, but the patience and concentration – as well as arm strength! – needed mean it is something you will only prepare for those you really love. Because if this is the case, it won’t be a burden at all, as you know how much they will love it, and that – especially if they are almond lovers – you will make their day. After all, cooking and baking is just another way to show your love and how much you care.
This Christmas, the first my family and I spent without my super daddy Salvatore, it’s been more important than ever for me to bake and cook, as this is how I overcome difficult moments in my life. Knowing it is just me and that saucepan in front of me, imagining how tasty it is going to be and how happy we are going to be when sharing a treat together, takes my mind off sad thoughts. It works for me, at least!
So here we are. This time my mum guided me carefully through it to make sure I would not mess the croccante di mandorle up. Yep, this is not the first time I made the croccante… Ten years ago, my mum asked me to help her prepare one of her many croccante di mandorle. The instructions were straightforward: keep stirring and never stop. Easy, right? Well, I am not sure what happened, but in the space of a few seconds, the croccante was burning badly at the bottom. 500g of fresh, hand-chopped almonds… GONE. Ouch. The rest I won’t mention. But mums are forgiving, so it was all good. However, I felt I had failed badly and wanted to fix it! I knew my moment would come, and this Christmas… I can proudly declare VICTORY!
- 400g almonds (weight when peeled)
- 500g sugar
- 1 lemon, sliced in half
- A bunch of colourful sprinkles
- 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
Bring 700ml of water to boil. In a bowl place the almonds with the skin on and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes (this will make the peeling process easier and quicker).
Peel the almonds, dry with a clean tea towel and slice vertically in 3/4 parts.
Line a round baking tin (oven dish) of 24cm diameter with thin oven paper and spread extra-virgin olive oil evenly to cover all the surface.
In a large saucepan, add the sugar and the almonds. Stir well.
On a low/medium flame, start stirring with a wooden spoon, incorporating the sugar with the almonds, stirring from the bottom to the top. Make sure you never stop and that the bottom does not get sticky. It will take between 20 and 35 minutes.
This bit is the most challenging part of the recipe. The aim is eventually to get the sugar to caramelise and to incorporate all the almonds within the caramel.
First the sugar might start crystallising a bit and you might see some small lumps of sugar appearing. Just keep stirring and if necessary lower the flame. After 10 minutes the almonds and sugar will start to get slightly darker. You are on the right path!
Increase the flame slightly. During the process you need to keep watching and may have to increase or decrease the heat if it is cooking too slowly or quickly. Keep stirring. It really is all about stirring. Your arm might get a bit tired, but don’t give up!
When the almonds become as brown as you see in the third picture above (after about 20 minutes) and the content starts to come off the walls of the pan easily, it is time to take the pan off the hob. From this moment on you need to act quickly.
Pour the mix in the dish you previously lined with oil and with the aid of half a lemon press the content down to flatten it evenly (as seen below). Make sure you do this quickly as the almonds will harden relatively quickly. In the video below you can see my mum doing it :-D. Thank you mummyyyyyyyyyyyyy…
Add some sprinkles immediately so they will stick. Let cool. When ready, take it out the dish and with LOTS of care, transfer it to a nice flat dish. The croccante is fragile, so take your time to move it across.
You can store it for a few days in a biscuit tin. Either enjoy it yourself or share it with those you love!
If you give it a go and are not sure about certain aspects of the method, please do get in touch: leave a message in the comments below or send me an email on email@example.com