Popular throughout Italy, especially in the south and Sicily, croccante (literally, crunchy) is a mixture of caramelized sugar and almonds left to harden. It is then broken into pieces for use as a confection or ground up for use as a flavoring. Croccante is fairly simple to prepare, but it must be handled quickly and deftly to avoid having the sugar overcook and become bitter, as well as to avoid burns.
Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a wide, shallow pan, like a straight-sided sauté pan. Stir continuously with a metal spoon (a wooden spoon might carry traces of grease, which could make the sugar crystallize as it is melting) until the mixture looks like wet sand. Set over low heat and allow to melt and caramelize, stirring occasionally.
While the sugar is melting, butter or oil a jelly roll pan and set it on several towels to protect the surface under the pan.
When the sugar is a clear amber color, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the almonds. Pour the molten croccante out on the pan and spread it out with the spoon. Allow the croccante to cool and harden.
After the croccante has cooled, break it into coarse pieces for use as a confection. To use the croccante as a flavoring, chop it finely with an old knife or put it through a meat grinder fitted with the fine blade. Use a food processor only as a last resort, since it reduces the croccante to too fine a powder.
Store the croccante in a tin in a cool, dry place.
© 1990 Nick Malgieri. All rights reserved.