I recently went to See's Candy with my friend, Debe, and bought a pound of chocolates. I got a custom box because they don't make an assortment that has everything that I like. My husband's only request was that I get him some almond buds. For those of you who have never had an almond bud, you are missing out. They are toasted almonds wrapped in caramel and drenched in chocolate. Yum! After bringing the chocolates home and examining the almond buds, I thought that there had to be a fairly easy way to make them at home. It would probably be much cheaper to make them too. (I paid about $18/lb at See's.)
On Friday, I decided to try it out. I found a chewy caramel recipe that would work here at high altitude. Candy making is finicky here, but I found a solution. When cooking caramel or fudge or any other sugar syrup-based confection, you have to lower the cooking temperature by 2 degrees for every 1000ft you are above sea level. For example, the recipe I found said to cook the dairy/sugar mixture to 257 degrees; here I would only cook it to 247 degrees and it would turn out right. However, that means that regular chewy caramel recipes that call for boiling the dairy, sugar and corn syrup together from the beginning don't get quiet as caramelized and dark as they do at sea level. The recipe I found called for the sugar/corn syrup to be cooked to a medium amber color before adding the dairy. That's the best way I've found to get good caramel color and flavor way up here at 5300+ ft.
I bagged all the almond bud centers in a zip-top bag and left them on the counter, planning to dip them the next day. They ended up shoved right next to the toaster and the toaster is a very well-used appliance in our house. When I checked them the next day, all the centers were melted together in a big lump. Apparently the use of the toaster heated the caramel enough to melt everything together. So I had to separate them again before dipping them. A bit of a chore. Maybe next time I'll find a safer place for my treats.
Then we have the chocolate component. If you are going to go to the trouble of making these at home, do yourself a favor and take the extra time to temper your chocolate. It makes a HUGE difference in the final product. Tempered chocolate sets up quickly, has a slight snap to it when it is broken and a beautiful shiny finish. Untempered chocolate takes a long time to set, starts melting as soon as you touch it, is still somewhat mushy after it sets up and has a tendency to "bloom" or turn chalky. Go with the tempered chocolate. You won't be sorry.
Here are the directions for tempering your dipping chocolate:
Chop chocolate into small, fairly consistent-sized pieces. Put about 3/4 of your chocolate in top of a double-boiler, or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, until it is completely melted, smooth and reaches temp of 105 degrees. Stir every couple minutes. Add the rest of the chocolate and stir until it cools to 88-90 degrees for dark, 86-88 degrees for milk and 80-82 degrees for white chocolate. Remove any un-melted pieces of chocolate. Keep the chocolate at this temperature to keep it tempered while you dip or drizzle it over your almond buds. An easy way to do this is to set the bowl on a heating pad set on low. If the heating pad gets too hot, put a kitchen towel between the heating pad and bowl. If the chocolate gets warmer or cooler than the temper range, you will need to re-temper it for it to set properly.
I forgot to take pictures of the chocolate dipped Almond Buds before I wrapped them up and put them under the tree. I did remember to taste one though. So yummy.
Homemade Almond Buds
1 lb. whole raw almonds
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick butter, cut in pieces
2 lb good-quality chocolate (I like bittersweet/dark, but milk chocolate is good too.)
Line a 2 cup heat-proof dish with foil. Butter the foil. (This is for any caramel that is left after spooning over almonds.)
Combine cream and milk in microwave safe dish.
Combine corn syrup, sugar and water in heavy 3 quart pan. Heat over high heat until boiling and sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture boils, DO NOT STIR. Using a pastry brush dipped in warm water, wash down any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan. This will keep the caramel from turning grainy.
Heat cream and milk in microwave until hot, do not boil.
Continue cooking until mixture starts to brown. You can now gently swirl the pan to keep the mixture from burning in hot spots. Once mixture is a medium amber color, remove from heat and whisk in the milk/cream and butter. The mixture will sputter and foam up. Be patient and keep stirring, it will settle down in a minute or two.
Return pan to heat. Clip candy thermometer to side of pan. Cook, stirring every minute or so to keep from burning, until thermometer reads 244 degrees (That's 234 here in Colorado).
Remove from heat and begin spooning over toasted almond clusters. Use as much or as little as you like. Pour the extra into the prepped dish.
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Temper your chocolate.
You can now either dip each cluster in the tempered chocolate or place them on a cooling rack and drizzle the chocolate over the tops of them.
Let the chocolate set.
Store in an air-tight container. They should stay fresh for up to two weeks.
The leftover caramel can be reheated, thinned down and used for a sundae topping or for eating with apples. It probably won't be stiff enough to dip in chocolate. Or you could eat it with a spoon and a smile. That's the way I'd go.