If you read my Sunday post, you know I made candy yesterday – Almond Roca to be exact.
I have an old family recipe that my mother gave to me. I honestly don’t know how far back it goes – only that her mother passed the secret to her and she SUPPOSEDLY passed the secret to me.
(You’ll see…this is a big fat lie.)
Perhaps it would be kinder to say that the women in my family passed on the recipe AS THEY KNEW IT and no one ever thought to buy a candy thermometer for fifteen bucks at Target. (I’m not bitter…)
Do you need a “secret decoder ring” for YOUR old family recipes? (Because I DO!)
There’s been hurdles like my Aunt Sherry’s ducks… Yes, you heard me — DUCKS. She had these cute little ceramic ducks that nested inside each other on her stove. Her recipes would read like “two little ducks of cinnamon, a medium duck of vanilla, and three large ducks of tepid water.”
REALLY???!! Are these people trying to kill me? I’m a teensy bit OCD about some things and the ducks are just not the kind of measurement I can trust. I mean, what if one of your ducks break? *shudders*
I had to go out and buy some normal measuring spoons and figure out how the hell big those ducks were so I could relax and enjoy our Thanksgiving kitchen. You see, when Turkey Day rolls around, it is the signal to my clan that it’s time to start baking.
Other women shop on Black Friday. The women in my family bake their asses off.
Every year of my childhood I hung out in the kitchen while my mother (and various helpers) made fudge, divinity, almond roca, Holly Candy, Russian Teacakes, several kinds of cookies and her famous mashed potato candy.
When I was 26 years old my mom came to visit from Missouri, as she did every year at Thanksgiving, but that particular year is one I’ll never forget because I was deemed ready for my very own almond roca pan! This passing of the torch is a very big deal in my family — the keeper of the pan has graduated from apprenticeship to become a “Roca Master.”
My mom knelt before me in my Aunt Sherry’s living room and placed a perfectly seasoned cast iron pan in my lap and told me, “This year, you are in charge of the roca.” (It’s an excellent thing that all this happened before September 11th or they would never have let her through security with that thing. She lugged it in her carry-on bag.)
That was more than fifteen years ago and, unfortunately, my mother has long since passed. But Homemade Roca is the gift that keeps on giving and I am famed far and wide for my Christmas baking.
To be fair, I think this is partly due to the fact that I live in Southern California, which is not exactly the land of outrageous bakers. Competition isn’t crazy fierce here like it would be in the South or the Midwest where people have “signature dishes.”
Note: I know people who will hate you like poison forever for bringing “their” dish to a gathering. It’s kinda spooky.
I get asked for my roca recipe all the time (not that it helps people when I give it to them). In fact, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll put my mother’s recipe below. The sad reality is, if you don’t know the decoding secrets, you will have an epic fail on your hands trying it out.
You see, those old family recipes LIE, even if only by omission.
Almond Roca Recipe
- In heavy fry pan melt 1 lb butter, 2 ½ cup sugar.
- Cook & stir over highest heat until mixture foams vigorously.
- Cook and stir 5 min more over low heat.
- Add 1 ½ cup whole unblanched almonds
- Stir over high heat until nuts begin to pop.
- Reduce heat & cook another 7 minutes.
- If mix darkens too much remove from heat but stir the full 7 mins.
- Pour in shallow 12×18 pan. Cool.
- Melt 1 ½ cups chocolate chips. Spread ½ over candy.
- Sprinkle with ¾ cup chopped walnuts or almonds.
- Cool. Flip over and do other side.
OK, that looks simple enough, right? (Wrong!) Let me explain the various lies inherent in this recipe:
Lie #1: You can’t make almond roca when it rains – it won’t set up.
With the recipe above, this is absolutely true. I grew up watching the weather around Thanksgiving like a farmer (even though I lived in L.A.). My mom would say, “Jennifer, take a walk and let me know if we can make roca today.” We’d check the Weather Channel too, just to make sure an unexpected gale wasn’t on the way.
Apparently when it rains, candy-making changes (unless you have a candy thermometer). Now do YOU see a candy thermometer in that recipe? Thasss right, you don’t! I had to figure this all out myself one particularly rainy season.
Lie #2: Just use 1 lb of butter – any butter will do.
*rude buzzer noise*
This “any butter” notion is deadly to almond roca. My mom always used Parkay stick margarine so I did too. Then a few years ago, my area of Southern California stopped carrying it in the grocery stores so I tried Land O’ Lakes butter instead. Then I tried another kind…and another…
In all I tried FIVE different kinds of butter. Epic fails for every batch of roca I attempted. I started swapping out margarine…SEVEN different brands of margarine, to be exact. Not a one of them worked.
Apparently my mother made it with Parkay because you can ONLY make it with Parkay. Not that she told me that. (See? They omit from these recipes…)
I called my relatives in Missouri and told them there would be no almond roca until they sent me Parkay, which means they all went out and bought me like 5 pounds. (I’ve got TWENTY pounds of Parkay in my freezer now.)
Lie #3: Follow the recipe EXACTLY!
There’s code words in this recipe. Seriously. For example: Cook & stir over highest heat until mixture foams vigorously. That last word is definitely meant to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of the family bakers.
Let me show you the difference between “foams” and “foams vigorously.”
There is certainly a difference in feel but you’d have to have made it a gajillion times like me to know.
Just so you can’t say I never told you any secrets… In that
stupid recipe up top, here’s the secret code:
“Foams vigorously” = “soft crack” on your new trusty candy thermometer
“When the first almond pops” = “hard crack” on your new trusty thermometer
If you are armed with these secrets, you can make this candy when it rains and you don’t have to go on nuclear lockdown to ensure that you’ll hear “the pop” as you make your roca. I kid you not, we’d make people turn off the TV and any radios while we made roca just to be sure we heard those almonds. If someone really couldn’t shut their piehole, they were sent outside with the dogs.
You still need to have a cast iron pan, and you’d better use Parkay so you don’t cry, but if you print out this blog, you should have everything you need to make my Almond Roca. I am virtually passing you the pan.
Note: Just in case of bad candy-making juju in your kitchen, stock LOTS of alcoholic beverages…if your candy-making goes badly, you won’t care if you’ve been sipping as you go along.
Do you have these kinds of “old family recipes?” You know, from before the candy thermometer or from the 4’2″ great-grandma who used two handfuls of this and “a dollop” of that? Do you bake during the holidays or have friends and cherished family members who do? Enquiring minds love to know these things here at More Cowbell!