At present, there are no Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) that we can visit during Advent season. I must admit that I miss walking past the wooden stalls and inhaling the many familiar smells of Christmas season. But there is no need to despair this year, as there is always the possibilty to make some of those much beloved Christmas market treats at home.
Usually, there are quite a few treats to chose from. There is the ever present fried sausage (Bratwurst) in a roll with mustard, waffles, cotton candy, candied apples, mulled wine (Glühwein), potato fritters (Reibekuchen) with apple sauce or smoked salmon, and thick slices of Christmas Stollen with a generous layer of powdered sugar that will inevitably fly off and cover your dark winter coat with lots of white specks while you indulge. But one of our favorite treats are the Gebrannten Mandeln (literally translated as 'Burnt Sugar Almonds'). They are usually sold in colorful paper cones.
With as few as six ingredients, water, sugar, vanilla sugar, spices, salt, and nuts, most recipes out there for Christmas-market-style Sugar Roasted Almonds have only minor variations. Some cooks add only cinnamon, some even a bit of pepper, but I prefer a rather generous amount of Speculoos Spices and vanilla. For the Speculoos Spices, I sometimes make my own mix, other times, I add a trusted Speculoos Spice Mix – both options will result in delightful caramelized nuts. If you need a recipe for making your own spice mix, take a look HERE.
And btw Speculaas is the word the Dutch use, while Speculoos is the Flemish word - they both mean the same, though. And a classic Speculoos aka Speculaas Spice Mix will contain most of or all of the following warm spices: cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise, and nutmeg.
In previous years, I mostly used almonds (Gebrannte Mandeln) but this year I prefer a mix of almonds, hazelnuts and a handful of pumpkin seeds (Kürbiskerne). As far as the nuts are concerned, I should add that while it’s obviously okay to use regular nuts and seeds, I find that it makes a difference if you use organic produce – not only is the flavor superior but, of course, it’s better for all of us. But no matter what the origin of your ingredients, make sure they are fresh and their flavor is not off – nuts do tend to go rancid rather quickly. Storing them in a cool place and buying smaller quantities is therefore always a good idea. No need to take the skins off the nuts by the way.
As far as the flavoring is concerned, I should add that although this Christmas season it’s all about my Speculoos Spice Mix (Spekulatius Gewürz Mischung), you could also use a Pumpkin or Apple Pie Spice Mix, or Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchen Gewürz Mischung). The added salt is up to you – I like to add a pinch of salt to the caramel while cooking but it’s also very nice to sprinkle your favorite coarse sea salt on the still warm nuts once they have finished cooking, that way you can enjoy a mix of sweet and salty caramelized nuts.
The trickiest part of the process is deciding when to remove the nuts from the pan. Ideally it’s a balance between the initial powdery white coating and the eventual crunchy hard caramel. You will probably have to try it a few times to get it perfect.
Sugar Roasted Nuts l Gebrannte Nussmischung
- 125ml water
- 200g sugar
- 16g pure vanilla sugar (Bourbon Vanille Zucker)
- 1 tbsp Speculoos Spice Mix (Spekulatiusgewürz) ready made or homemade OR use 1 tbsp of your Gingerbread, Apple Pie or Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
- generous pinch of sea salt
- 200g mixed nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, macademia nuts or pecans OR a mix thereof - I also like to add a few seeds such as pumkin seeds or some sunflower seeds (for a total of 200g)
- a sprinkling of coarse sea salt (entirely optional) to sprinkle on the Sugar Roasted Nuts while they are still warm
- Put the water, sugar, vanilla sugar in a medium pot. Without stirring, place over medium high heat and let the sugars dissolve.
- As soon as the mixture is clear and bubbling, stir in the nuts, then the Speculoos Spice Mix (or other spices you are using) and salt - this is best done using a wooden spoon.
- Keep stirring, the clear sugar will first coat the nuts. As you keep stirring, the sugar will turn white and powdery. Keep stirring.
- The sugar will then start to caramelize a little and again coat the nuts. Continue stirring as you want the caramel to be between golden and amber colored. This stage takes a little practice - if you feel like your pan is getting too hot, just take it off the heat.
- Once the nuts are well coated with mostly shiny caramel, pour them out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and use two forks or spoons to separate them. Be careful, they will still be very hot. You don’t have to separate each individual nut, but just make sure there are no big clumps.
- Leave them on the baking sheet and let them cool before you serve them - once they have cooled completely, you can store them in a cookie tin, glass jar or pack them up in paper bags and share them with your Knuffelcontact ....(this is the Flemish Word of the Year and means "hug buddy or cuddle contact" and has become a basic right for every Belgian during the corona crisis).
While you prepare these Sugar Rosted Nuts, you should remember that caramelizing sugar can be a bit dangerous. The caramel will be incredibly hot and it can turn from golden to black in a matter of seconds. Make sure to keep an eye on it at all times - especially with little persons around.
If you want to double the recipe, be aware that it will take longer for all the sugar to get powdery and then to caramelize. Just keep stirring, the sugar with get powdery and then caramelly eventually.
For more delicious inspirations for your Speculoos aka Speculaas Spice Mix, you might want to take a look at:
- Gevulde Speculaas - a traditional Dutch Christmas cake filled with amond paste (HERE)
- Kruidnoten - Dutch spiced cookies in the shape of nuts (HERE)
- Speculaas Muffins with Marzipan (Spekulatiusmuffins mit Marzipan) (HERE)
- Speculaas Biscotti with Almonds (Spekulatius-Biscotti mit Mandeln) (HERE)
- Speculaas Waffle Rolls (Spekulatius Eiserkuchen) (HERE)