This is probably my most favorite Christmas baking item. It’s also the most difficult to get done. Not because the recipe itself is particularly hard, but because candy making is a little bit of a science.
In the area that I live, the weather is my biggest obstacle when trying to make almond roca. When making any candy, you have to bring your ingredients to a certain temperature in order for it to set properly. On rainy (or humid) days, the cooking time for candy can increase substantially. Candy making requires the perfect ratio of sugar to moisture and since you’re boiling the mixture longer to get the temperature up, you may lose all your moisture in the process. And you get a completely opposite problem once the candy is done and cooling. Because sugar attracts moisture, your cooling candy will absorb all that humidity in the air, making the finished product softer than you want it.
I remember as a kid, my mom would check outside every day to see if it was going to be cold and dry. She never made almond roca unless it wasn’t raining, the sky was clear and it was cold. Which, in Seattle is sometimes just one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the conditions were right, my mom would drop everything and make this recipe. I’ve learned to do the same – otherwise, it doesn’t get made.
Actually, when my daughter was just a couple of months old, the weather was perfect for Almond Roca making. Knowing this was probably my one chance to make it, I decided to try to whip together the candy while Maddie was sleeping. Call it the new mommy disease – I didn’t realize yet that anytime you try to do something when a baby is napping, they wake up. Just when my candy reached the proper temperature, Madison started screaming hysterically (of course). Flustered, I grabbed the wrong pan (one with no rim around it) and poured the 300 degree candy onto it. The molten liquid flowed right off the edge and all over my stove-top. With my bare hand, I grabbed the pan to get it over the sink to stop the mess. In the few moments the candy had been touching the metal, it had absorbed the heat and was searing hot. As the burning metal scorched my skin, I dropped the pan, splattering the remaining candy all over the kitchen – all the while feeling like a terrible mother because my daughter was still crying. Ah, memories. Needless to say, the almond roca didn’t get made that year.
Feel free to re-read that little story any time something you make doesn’t turn out just right. Everybody has baking disasters. It happens.
Anyway, this stuff is awesome enough that I’ve made it every year since that whole debacle. It will always be a clear-cold day tradition at Christmastime.
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1. In a large saucepan, bring sugar, water, butter and salt to a full rolling boil over medium heat. Add half the almonds.
2. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches 295-300 degrees (I like mine right at about 298 – an instant read thermometer is a must here).
3. Remove from heat. Stir in the rest of the almonds and 1/2 of the walnuts.
4. Pour onto greased shallow pan (with a rim) and cool.
5. Brush both sides with melted chocolate and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.
A couple notes.
1. I spread my candy out with a spatula, which I rub in butter before touching the hot candy.
2. I separate my walnuts into two bowls prior to bringing the almond sugar mixture to a bowl so that I don’t accidentally dump all the walnuts in at the end.
3. Once I have my candy all spread out and cooling – I sprinkle it with half the chocolate chips. I let the candy’s heat melt them and then spread them out, sprinkling with the walnuts while the chocolate is still sticky. Then I only have to melt the chocolate for one side…and don’t have to allow the candy to cool, spread with chocolate, cool again, flip, spread with chocolate. Using the heat of the candy saves me at least an hour. I’m a fan of that.