This gooey almond candy, covered in hard caramel, is a Sicilian delicacy and a symbol of all festivals, fairs and celebrations, from carnival to Christmas. But it can also be found all year round throughout the country, especially at street festivals where large blocks wrapped in cellophane are sold at stalls offering all sorts of traditional sweets and treats such as fruit and marzipan biscuits. In Sicily, especially in the Noto valley, it can be found all year round in pastry shops and cafés.
- olive oil, for greasing
- 1 pound (500 grams or 2 1/2 cups) sugar
- 1 pound (500 grams) whole almonds
- 1/2 lemon, optional
Grease a marble slab or sheet of parchment with olive oil (marble is ideal because it is heavy and does not shift). Parchment, on the other hand, tends to slip on the surface; take an oversized piece and moisten a flat surface, such as a kitchen table, with wet hands before spreading the parchment; this will help it stay in place).
Spread the sugar in an even layer in a wide, shallow pan and place it over low heat. Watch it carefully, but do not touch or stir it. As soon as it starts to melt, you can help it by shaking the pan slightly, making sure it does not get too dark (which means it will taste too bitter). It should be a medium-dark amber color, like maple syrup, or a little darker, but not so dark that it looks black.
When the caramel starts to melt and form around the edges, it can be stirred lightly with a wooden spoon. As soon as it has completely liquefied and has a dark amber color, add the almonds. Almonds cool the caramel and make it harder to work (small fruits like pine nuts or seeds like sesame are much easier to work with), but don’t lose concentration! Stir over a low heat until all the almonds are covered, then pour over the prepared surface.
Now work quickly. The easiest way to flatten the surface to the desired height (it should be about half a centimeter thick) is to place another sheet of greaseproof paper face down on top of the almond mixture and roll it with a rolling pin to the desired height. For small nuts, it is very easy to get the right size and height by crushing them with your hand (moistened with water) or with the halves of a lemon.
If you’re using parchment paper and a rolling pin, once you’ve reached the right height, you can rub the surface with half a lemon to give it a shine and flavor and to distribute the crunch evenly over the surface. Leave to cool slightly. While the cake is still warm, cut it into pieces to serve (a large, thick kitchen knife is best). I like large bars for gifts or small squares to serve with coffee at the end of a meal.
A great edible gift: wrap the pieces individually in cellophane or parchment paper and tie with twine. Store the leftovers in an airtight container (preferably lined with parchment paper to prevent burning) and store in a cool, dark, dry place. If you live in a hot and humid climate, this torrent may be a little sticky, but that’s okay (licking your fingers is always helpful, in my opinion).