Almond Joy...

It's pretty clear that the stress of moving is wearing on me. The process is feeling endless right now, and I'm starting to get pretty bummed out over my inability to celebrate the holiday season like usual. It doesn't help that I keep fielding inquiries from friends about when I'm going to have my annual cookie exchange. It's sad enough to me that I won't be able to host, without having to remember that I'm disappointing the people around me. As a result, I've kind of lost my mojo a bit.

I was slated to bring a dessert to our annual Thanksgiving gathering in St. Louis this week, but absolutely nothing was inspiring me. I looked through my old recipes, browsed around online, reviewed my bookmarked items on Pinterest, and even went through my beloved Martha Stewart tome, and found literally nothing I wanted to bake. I think a large part of the problem stemmed from the fact that what I really wanted to make was a pie, but that would have been too difficult to bring on the plane, so I was limited to things that would transport easily. I ended up going with a batch of "S" cookies, since they're a family tradition among Dad's relatives, but it felt like kind of a cop-out.

Finally, inspiration found me, in the form of an email forwarded from my friend Lauren, which contained a recipe from Mama's Nuts, the business venture of some of Darrell's X-Marx buddies. They sell nut brittles and are particularly well known for their spicy Szechuan peanuts, and Lauren and I picked up some of their wares at a Dose Market a few months ago. I was very impressed with the quality of their products, so I was excited to get to try one of their recipes myself. 

Although the recipe was for almonds with a coating reminiscent of gingerbread, and I generally abhor molasses in all forms, I decided to give them a try anyway. I ended up being glad I did, because the folks at Mama's Nuts know their stuff -- the flavor of the nuts was fantastic! I did make a couple changes in the form of more salt and less cayenne (just personal preferences), but the results were a perfect storm of everything that we look for in a snack food -- salty, sweet, spicy, and crunchy. My only problem was that I couldn't locate roasted, unsalted almonds at my local grocery store, so I went with raw almonds, which was a mistake. They were a little bit soggy, but they still tasted great. 

While I was cooking them, I was certain that the recipe would never work. Basically, you create a super-saturated syrup with the sugar and molasses, which crystallizes when it dries. As I was reducing and stirring it, I was sure it would never set up properly and that I would end up with a wet, sticky mess, but I shouldn't have doubted.

If you wrap these up in a little cellophane pouch with a ribbon, I think these would make an ideal holiday gift -- something slightly unusual and homemade. Go forth, track down the right type of almonds, and go nuts!

Spicy Gingersnap Almonds
from Mama's Nuts

1/4 c. molasses
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
12 oz. roasted, skin-on almonds, unsalted

1. In a wide, shallow pot, combine molasses, water, and sugar. Simmer to make a thick syrup.
2. When the syrup is reduced, add the spices to bloom. Cook a few minutes longer.
3. Turn off heat and add almonds. Stir to coat, and continue stirring until the nuts begin to separate and dry, and the sugars crystallize.
4. Spread nuts on a cookie sheet several hours to cool completely.

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