RUSSIAN FOOD NETWORK

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Almond Caramels – Makagigi

1/4 cup sugar

8 tbsp. butter

1/3 cup honey

1-1/2 cups blanched almonds, coarsely chopped

In a large frying pan melt the sugar and cook it over low heat, stirring constantly, until it has caramelized (turned light golden brown).  Be very careful not to let the sugar burn.

Stir in the butter and the honey and cook the mixture at the barest simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring constantly, until a bit of the mixture dropped into a glass of ice water holds a pliable ball (firm-ball stage on a candy thermometer).

Stir in the almonds and drop by teaspoonfuls onto a buttered marble slab or well-buttered waxed paper.  Cool.

Yield: 3 dozen candies.

According to our cookbook, the recipe is Ukrainian, or possibly Turkish in origin, though in my research, it seemed that the dish is very flexible.  Some Polish adaptations of the recipe, for example, have poppy seeds and spices involved, along with what seemed like some kind of olive paste (1, 2).

In the Middle Ages (when it was called Kievan Rus’), until about the 12th century, Ukraine was a powerful country.  Since then, however, it has been almost constantly under the rule of others (including the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland, and the USSR).  Additionally, it has been involved in many wars and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Preparing this dish did not go well.  Something went wrong with the sugar melting, and it ended up more like rock candy and honey, which doesn’t hold the teaspoonful-form well, than actual caramel (hence the puddle in the picture).  I substituted margarine for butter, because I am a strict vegetarian, but I can’t tell whether or not this had an impact on the dish or not, since the sugar didn’t go well.  It might just be that I’m bad at making candy, or that candy is finicky like that—the last time I tried to make candy, I set my electric mixer on fire.

When I try this again, I’ll probably try melting the sugar in the microwave, because I’m still not very good with electric stovetops (I learned to cook on a gas stove).  I may also try the double-boiler method, or simply trading the frying pan for a dish with deeper sides—I’ve never melted sugar in the frying pan before.

If it had actually turned out, it would have been a fantastic dessert.

In my current state of love-hate with this recipe, I feel it would have been appropriate to eat while reading the dinner section of Notes from Underground, while the narrator is pacing after dinner.  It seems very much the kind of thing that a restaurant like that might serve in place of an after-dinner mint or something.

(1)    - http://www.kuchnia-kuchnia.pl/pl8/teksty324

- http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makagigi