caramelized almonds for confections
I'm making chocolates to bring to Thanksgiving dinner, and have a few filling combinations running around in my mind, one of which would involve some caramelized almonds. They will be small filled chocolates, so I'm thinking they'll be pretty finely chopped, almost ground. They'll be paired with 72% chocolate and probably some cayenne, so the nuts should be a touch sweet - but I'm still looking for an end result that is definitely almonds with some sweetness, not toffee with almonds in it . (though, that would be more of a sure thing, since I've made toffee plenty of times :)
So, how would you prefer to go about this? I figure I'll toast the nuts in a skillet or in the oven until the sugar is sufficiently caramelized, and I'm GUESSING that the best way to go might be to use sliced almonds and pulverize them after caramelizing and cooling. (My logic being that too-small pieces will likely burn too quickly, and whole almonds will just be that much harder to break up after.)
Also, I'll probably go with brown sugar, or maybe maple syrup... but I have just about every non-artificial sweetener you can think of here so I'm open to suggestions there too. And what ratio sounds right to you? Butter, or no butter? (I'm thinking it's probably unnecessary.)
Any collaboration will be appreciated! I know they say not to make something for a holiday or party that you've not tried before, but I almost always fail to take that advice. :)
I toss sliced or slivered almonds in a heavy simple syrup (3 parts sugar:2 parts water) to coat, spread on a silpat, and bake at 300 until golden through.
Are you making a ganache filling? The nut pieces will tend to get a little soft/soggy over time, which is not terrible, just what it is. Do you want the texture or just the flavor?
re: babette feasts
I am planning to do ganache centers, yes... and it would be nice if the nuts added some texture, but if it's not a home run on the first try I guess I'll be able to live with it! I was actually thinking that might be the case, but wasn't sure... at this point it looks like they won't be made until tomorrow so they'll be sitting for about a day.
Thanks so much for your input!
re: babette feasts
Just thought I'd report back after the fact - I ended up using slivered almonds, and took the easy way out by simply drizzling them with a little maple syrup before sticking them in the oven, until the syrup was really bubbling up and everything looked the right shade of brown. Then chopped them up a bit more once they were cool.
I made the chocolates directly in candy cups rather than molds, like how you'd make a peanut butter cup. To try to keep the nuts from going soggy, I sprinkled them over the first, bottom layer of chocolate, then covered them in a bit more chocolate - let that set and then filled with ganache and topped with the rest of the chocolate. That way the nuts were 'encased' rather than snuggling right up against the ganache.
I made them Wednesday night to bring to dinner on Thursday, and there aren't any leftovers, but the nuts were still nice and crunchy when we ate them, anyway.
Now if only I could ever manage to do all those finicky little things while keeping my chocolate in temper without getting chocolate all over EVERYTHING. :) Definitely before Christmas candymaking starts, I'm going to go buy a heating pad and try that way of keeping it at temp. I'm constantly going back to the double boiler for a few seconds and having to re-juggle the spatula and the thermometer, and before I know it it takes me about an hour to clean up when I'm done. But at least they turned out well!
Glad to hear it. Yes, a coating of chocolate or cocoa butter is a good water proofer. If you temper more chocolate than you need, the larger volume will cool more slowly. Also if you temper in the microwave, a plastic bowl might insulate better than metal or glass. For clean up, if you have a propane/creme brulee torch, just hit the spots of chocolate with that until melted, then wipe with a damp cloth. Easier than scraping and scrubbing!
re: babette feasts
I don't usually temper in the microwave, though I know a lot of people swear by it... Sometimes with the double broiler I find myself wishing I had a third hand, but I like being able to keep a constant eye on it. Maybe now that I feel a little more confident in understanding the basic process, I can go back to experimenting with methods.
This time I chopped up about a pound and a half or so of chocolate. It ended up being just a tiny bit more than I needed; next time I should perhaps try to verify my estimates and then round up more significantly! :) I'm still not entirely clear on how others like to do this - do you just let the excess set up and store in the work bowl, then let it remelt when you add a new quantity to it next time?
I have been making certain candies for several years now, but have only worked with chocolate a handful of times, trying to teach myself in fits and starts. At this point, I trust that I'll usually end up with a successful result, but am still working on streamlining the process. There is a lot of good information on working with chocolate, but there are also a ton of details that tend to get left out or glossed over, so it's just been a lot of trial and error!
Thanks for the tip on cleanup! If I don't need the sink right away, I'll often just let everything soak until it can be wiped clean, but when marathon cooking is going on it's nice to be able to reset a little faster.