This is the third December that I am not working - and I may one day blog about how I tended to be a Xmas Grump. Each year, the one thing that could change my spirit was the end of term food sharing which tended to involve sweets more than savouries. With a multi-cultural group, some amazing treats appeared and I used to beg for recipes. These almond clusters appeared more than once and with different cultural roots - Portuguese, Russian, Polish... I have no idea about their origin, and they are so simple, maybe every culture with access to sliced almonds has a version. When perfect, they will reward you with a light crunch and a tiny bit of chewy texture.
Getting ready: Preheat oven to 350 F, and line cookie sheets with parchment. Yields about 2 dozen clusters.
2 egg whites
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups sliced almonds
Beat the egg whites, sugar and vanilla. I do this by hand, and I beat vigorously until the mixture almost begins to resemble melted marshmallows (a couple of minutes). Mix in the almonds - thoroughly, but gently so as to not break the slices.
I use my 20 ml scoop (equals a good tablespoon) and plop these on the cookie sheet. I touch the clusters just a bit (with finger or fork) to make them flatter rather than taller. Bake until golden. (Time will depend on your oven. Some shared recipes said 10 minutes - in my oven I take it to 12-15 minutes - and of course rotate at the halfway mark. They crisp up more as they cool. Dust with icing sugar. Once they are totally cool and dry, they store well in a tin, and best in a cool place.
Notes and Tips...
- Egg Whites - since I freeze egg whites left over from other recipes, I always have this on hand. It doesn't take too long for the egg whites to thaw at room temperature - and they are best at room temp for this recipe.
- Ratio - I have found various versions of this recipe online, all with different ratios of egg white to almonds and have tried several - for me this one turns out the best!
- Almonds - they need to be fresh. Usually I toast nuts I am using in recipes. Have never done this for this recipe - but that extra step might add an additional depth of flavour - might try it one day. In the photo you can see I used blanched almonds, but almond slices are also available unblanched and these also make for pretty clusters with little toasty brown slivers of colour. If you Google almond clusters and view Image reusts, you can see that some people make this with almond slivers rather than slices.
- Shaping - I have been fine with the random shapes that come from a plop of almond mixture, pressed down a bit, but I have seen websites that talk about pressing a thin layer of almond mixture into a ring mold (!) - well for sure that will result in nice rounds, but it feels like too much trouble for me... Have also come across a site suggesting the mixture be shaped into little logs.
- Variations - other variations I have noticed online suggest using brown sugar (or even other sugars such as coconut sugar); dipping cooled clusters into chocolate. One suggests adding a pinch of salt - hmmm, I may try that next time.
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