My friend and colleague David Lebovitz has given me many things over the years, most of them issued from his magic oven or stove. This recipe for almonds, which I have adapted to a slight degree, is one of his gifts. We made it together in my kitchen years ago and everyone swooned. I put it in my archives for reasons unknown, and recently brought it out to much acclaim. I make them for dinner parties, for gifts, and we make them in cooking classes. They are always the hit of whatever meal they precede.
Yes, I serve these sweet nothings – which I have salted and peppered up – as an appetizer. Lately, I’ve served them with rosé because until a couple of days ago, we had both heat and sun in the evenings. Now that autumn has descended, I will serve them with a light red, or even champagne. To be honest, they’re good with a glass of water, or nothing at all.
Making them is simple but there is a caveat. You cannot do anything else while you make them. You must patiently stay focused stirring, folding, smelling, looking. These almonds are caramelized, and the fantastic alchemy that takes place to get them there must be well-supervised.
I love the combination of flavors here, but you may mix and match – try five spice or star anise powder, nutmeg, allspice. The salt and some sort of hot pepper are vital.
Use a heavy bottomed pan, and turn out the almonds once they’re toasty and sticky, onto a marble surface, or an unlined baking sheet. Don’t turn these out onto soapstone – they like to marry it, and separating them is not a nice affair.
These keep well, in an air-tight jar or in the freezer, for several weeks, should there be any leftover, that is.
Candied, Spiced Almonds
1/3 cup (80ml) water
1 cup (200g) sugar
2 cups (270g) raw almonds
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/2 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette
Generous 1/8th teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Mix the water, sugar and nuts in a large, heavy-duty skillet. Put the pan over medium-to-high heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid boils.
- Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring until the liquid crystallizes and becomes sandy, which will take about 12 minutes. Soon after the “sand” has appeared, the sugar will begin to liquefy and caramelize. As you cook the nuts, remove the pan from the heat from time to time, to prevent the caramel from burning so that the nuts can cook. The nuts will begin to pop and you’ll begin to smell their toasty aroma, after about 12 minutes. Most, but not all, of the sugar will be melted.
- At this point, remove the pan from the heat, sprinkle the nuts with the spices, stir so they are mixed, and tip them onto a baking sheet to cool. When the nuts are cool, break up any that arestuck together. Serve when these are completely cool.
Makes about 3 cups.