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This Two-Ingredient Italian Almond Brittle Recipe Calls for a Potato—but Why?

Pieces of almond brittle on parchment paper.

When people ask for my favorite recipe from Genius Desserts—the cookbook I spent two years researching and testing and writing with a whole lot of help from all of you—first, I momentarily freeze. Then, I equivocate. Define “favorite.” Then, I tell them this one.

Well, to be fair to the hundred-plus others gems in the book, what I actually say is: Marcella Hazan’s Croccante was my favorite shocking discovery late one Saturday night, and has become my favorite story to tell. Not just because it’s a simple, deeply flavored brittle you can make from two ingredients (and zero candy thermometers) any time you need to pull a last-minute gift or party-enhancer out of your pantry. That’s all great, but what I really love is the crazy thing you do with a potato.

Genius Desserts Sneak Peek

Marcella Hazan’s Croccante (Two-Ingredient Almond Brittle)

Though this looks like a snappy toffee that was made by an experienced pastry chef or at least a home candymaking enthusiast, its sole ingredients are sugar and almond and the only special equipment you need is a potato. No thermometer, no special-order invert sugars, no fancy molds. But that potato is the smartest, most effective way to smooth out hot praline to an even, glassy sheen—so, there, you should invest.

The recipe comes from the late Marcella Hazan, who we can credit, along with her husband and coauthor Victor, for introducing much of America to regional Italian cooking—mostly in savory recipes, but in plenty of memorable desserts, too. When I wrote to Victor to ask for his favorites, croccante topped the list: “I remember someone who wanted to package this praline and distribute it as a candy,” Victor wrote. “It is addictively delicious, and I miss it very much.”

But how did Marcella get away with fine candy-making without a drawer of special equipment? When you’re not trying to land precisely on the small temperature window for the soft-crack or hard-ball stage, you don’t need the precision of a candy thermometer. Any sugar that has colored this deeply and is unadulterated by cream or butter will have surpassed the hard-crack stage and wind up crunchy and brittle-like. You need only watch the color—the caramel should be deep brown, and the almonds golden (which will indicate a rich, bittersweet caramel and well-toasted, nutty flavor, respectively). And handle it with respect and care, because you definitely don’t want it to splatter on anything that isn’t heatproof (including you).

Marcella Hazan’s Croccante (Two-Ingredient Almond Brittle)

• 1 1/4 cups (170g) whole blanched almonds (or 1 1/2 cups/170g slivered, but not sliced)
• 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
• 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225g) sugar
• 1 large potato, washed and dried well, and cut in half crosswise

See the full recipe on Food52.

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