Caramelized Nuts
Dessert Circus by Chef Jacques Torres, William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1998
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 5 1/2 cups
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 1/2 cups whole unblanched almonds
  • 21 ounces bittersweet chocolate, tempered
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar or unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

Place the granulated sugar and water in a large copper pot or 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the almonds and stir to coat them evenly in the sugar syrup. Your goal is to cook the almonds until the sugar crystallizes and caramelizes - when water is added, the sugar crystals dissolve. As the syrup boils, it becomes thicker as the water evaporates and big soaplike bubbles begin to form. Soon, all the moisture evaporates and the mixture becomes sandy. The sandiness is the sugar recrystallizing. It only takes the reformation of one sugar crystal to recrystallize the others. Keep stirring! Next, you will see the sugar close to the heat change from sandy to a clear liquid. The melted sugar clings to the almonds. When the sugar changes from clear to golden brown, the nuts are caramelized. Once this happens, pay close attention; the time it takes to pass from caramelized to burned is only a matter of seconds, especially when making smaller batches. You know the nuts are finished when most of the sandy sugar is gone. The first few times you make these, I suggest you try the following: When the sugar closest to the heat changes from sandy to liquid, remove the pan from the burner and continue to stir. The residual heat in the sugar and nuts will continue to cook the mixture while you stir it. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to stir the nuts while moving the saucepan on and off the heat at 10-second intervals. This will give you more control as it cooks.

When the nuts begin to caramelize, remove them from the heat and finish stirring. Use a wooden spoon to spread the caramelized nuts onto a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Do not touch the nuts as they are extremely hot. Let the nuts cool completely. If your freezer will accommodate the baking sheet, you can place the nuts in the freezer for about 30 minutes to speed up the cooling process. When the nuts are completely cooled, break apart any clusters that may have formed. At this stage, you can choose to serve the nuts as they are.

If you choose to coat the nuts in chocolate, place the cooled nuts in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add one-third of the tempered chocolate and immediately fold the nuts until they are thoroughly coated and the chocolate has set. If you do not fold immediately, the chocolate will set and the nuts will stick together. Add another third of the chocolate and fold thoroughly until set. Add the remaining third and fold thoroughly, being sure all the nuts are well-coated. Separate any clusters of nuts that have formed. If you plan to serve the nuts as they are, let the chocolate set completely. If you decide to move onto the next step, do not wait for the chocolate to set completely. Add the powdered sugar or cocoa powder and stir until all of the nuts are well coated. If you'd like to coat half of the nuts in powdered sugar and the other half in cocoa powder, you can use the same bowl if you start with the powdered sugar. Before serving, place the nuts in a sieve to remove any excess sugar or cocoa powder. The nuts will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Tempering chocolate:
Tempering is important because it determines the final gloss, hardness, and contraction of chocolate. When you melt chocolate, the molecules of fat separate. In order to put them back together, you must temper it. There are a variety of ways to do it, but the result is always the same. Chocolate is tempered when its temperature is between 84°F and 88°F. One of the easiest ways to temper it is to place it in the microwave for thirty seconds at a time on high power until the chocolate is melted. Be very careful not to overheat it: The chocolate may not look as if it has completely melted, because it retains its shape. The chocolate should be only slightly warmer than the bottom lip. You may still see lumps in it once you've stirred it, but don't worry; the residual heat of the chocolate will melt them. You can also use an immersion blender to break up the lumps and start the recrystallization process. Usually the chocolate begins to set (recrystallize) along the side of the bowl. As it begins to crystallize, mix the crystals into the melted chocolate and they will begin the recrystallization process. I like to use a glass bowl because it retains the heat and keeps the chocolate tempered for a long time. Another way to temper chocolate is a technique called seeding. In this method, tempering is achieved by adding small pieces of unmelted chocolate to melted chocolate. The amount of unmelted chocolate to be added depends on the temperature of the melted chocolate, but it is usually one fourth of the total amount. I usually use an immersion blender to mix the two together.

Checking tempering:
A simple method of checking tempering is to apply a small quantity of chocolate to a piece of paper or to the point of a knife. If the chocolate has been correctly tempered, it will harden evenly and show a good gloss within five minutes.


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