Holiday Baking: The 3 Lies In My Family Almond Roca Recipe

by Jenny Hansen

Every year, in the days after Thanksgiving, I open “the magic recipe folder” and start Christmas baking. And I’m talking about a LOT of baking. (I make 3 kinds of cookies, a few types of fudge, Russian Tea Cakes and mashed potato candy.)

Despite all those heaps of goodies, I get the same question every year, starting around Halloween:

When will you be making Almond Roca??

Many of my recipes have been handed down. My grandmother passed the secret on to my mom, and she SUPPOSEDLY passed the secret to me, along with her almond roca pan.

This “passing of the pan” is a very big deal in my family. The Pan is the clear signal that you have graduated from apprenticeship to become a “True Roca Master.” I was deemed “ready for the pan” when I was twenty-six and had been making roca for about 15 years.

Southern California, where I live, is not exactly a baking mecca and I am famed far and wide for my Christmas baking. I get asked for my roca recipe all the time (not that it helps people when I give it to them) and, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll put my mother’s recipe below.

The sad reality is, if you don’t know the lies secrets, you will have an epic fail on your hands trying it out.

L: Your pan after you pour out the finished almond roca. R: Finished roca – before breaking into pieces (I use a knife or a sterilized icepick and hammer).

Almond Roca Recipe

  • In heavy fry pan melt 1 lb butter and 2 ½ cup sugar.
  • Cook & stir over highest heat until mixture foams vigorously.
  • Cook and stir 5 min more over low heat.
  • Add 1 ½ cups whole unblanched almonds
  • Stir over high heat until nuts begin to pop.
  • Reduce heat & cook another 7 minutes.
  • If mix darkens too much remove from heat but stir the full 7 mins.
  • Pour in shallow 12×18 pan. Cool.
  • Melt 1 ½ cups chocolate chips. Spread ½ over candy.
  • Sprinkle with ¾ cup chopped walnuts or almonds.
  • Cool. Flip over and do other side.

OK, that looks simple enough, right? (Wrong!)

Let me explain the various lies inherent in this recipe:

Lie #1: You can’t make almond roca when it rains – it won’t set up.

With the recipe above, this is absolutely true. I grew up watching the weather around Thanksgiving like a farmer (we lived in L.A.). My mom would say, “Jennifer, take a walk and let me know if we can make roca today.” Apparently when it rains, candy-making changes (unless you have a candy thermometer). Now do YOU see a candy thermometer in that recipe? Thasss right, you do not! I had to figure this all out myself one particularly rainy season.

Lie #2: Just use 1 lb of butter – any butter will do.

This “any butter” notion is deadly. My mom always used Parkay stick margarine so I did too. Then a few years ago, my area of Southern California stopped carrying it in the grocery stores so I tried Land O’ Lakes butter instead. In all I tried FIVE different kinds of butter. Epic fails for every batch of roca I attempted. I started swapping out margarine…SEVEN different brands of margarine, to be exact. Not a one of them worked.

Apparently my mother made it with Parkay because you can ONLY make it with Parkay. Not that she told me that.

Lie #3: Follow the recipe EXACTLY!

There’s code words in this recipe. Seriously. For example: Cook & stir over highest heat until mixture foams vigorously. That last word is definitely meant to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of the family bakers.

Let me show you the difference between “foams” and “foams vigorously.”

This is what “foams” looks like.
Ah, but THIS (minisculely different) batch is “foaming vigorously!”

There is certainly a difference in feel but you’d have to have made it a gajillion times like me to know. Just so you can’t say I never told you any secrets… In that stupid recipe up top, here’s the secret code:

“Foams vigorously” equals soft crack on your new trusty candy thermometer
“When the first almond pops” equals hard crack on your new thermometer

If you are armed with the secrets in this post, you can make this candy when it rains. And you won’t need to go on lockdown to hear “the almonds pop” as you make your roca. (I kid you not, we’d make people turn off the TV and any radios while we made it, just to be sure we heard those almonds. If someone really couldn’t shut their piehole, they were sent outside with the dogs.)

You still need to have a cast iron pan, and you’d better use Parkay so you don’t cry, but if you print out this blog, you should have everything you need for the roca.

I am virtually passing you the pan.

Note: In case of bad candy-making juju in your kitchen, it helps to stock LOTS of alcoholic beverages.

Do you have these kinds of old family recipes? Do you bake during the holidays? What’s your specialty? Continue the discussion at the #SocialIn hashtag on Twitter or SocialInDC on Facebook!

~ Jenny


About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

© 2013 Jenny Hansen. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.

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