Amaranth Alegría Candies

Photograph by Tami Ganeles-Weiser/The Weiser Kitchen

The Aztecs didn’t just grow and eat amaranth; they also used it in their religious practices. Today these candies are found all over Mexico. And yes, you can substitute an equal amount of toasted sesame seeds — it is delicious either way.

Makes 35 to 40 pieces

¾ cup amaranth seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
⅓ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup raisins
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
2⅔ cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick vegetable oil spray and line it with parchment paper. Spray a spatula with a coating of nonstick vegetable oil spray and set aside.

2) Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the amaranth and toast, shaking the pan, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the some of the kernels pop. Transfer to a mixing bowl. (Some of the kernels will continue to pop.) Return the pan to the heat and when hot, add the sesame seeds and cook, shaking the pan for about 1 minute. Transfer to the bowl with the amaranth. Repeat with the almonds, transfer them to the bowl with the amaranth and reserve the pan. Add the raisins to the amaranth mixture and stir well.

3) Return the pan to the heat, add the water, honey, brown sugar and vanilla and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup reaches the hard crack stage (see Kitchen Tip below) and a candy thermometer inserted into it reads 300° F to 310° F. Work carefully, as sugar at this temperature can cause painful burns.

4) Pour the candy over the amaranth mixture using the prepared spatula to fully coat it. Gently pour the mixture into the prepared sheet pan and using an offset spatula, spread out the mixture evenly to a thickness of ¼ to ½ inch. Sprinkle with salt.

5) When cool to the touch, use a very sharp knife to cut the candy into 1- by 1½-inch pieces or shards (or size of your choice), or break the sheet into pieces by hand. Allow to cool completely.

Kitchen Tip:

Making candy often requires the preparation of a sugar syrup. Sugar syrup goes through several stages as it cooks, its internal temperature rises, its water content evaporates and its sugar concentrates. The temperature of the syrup will determine its characteristics once you stop cooking it. Handle hot sugar carefully, as it can cause painful burns.

• Thread stage: 230° F to 235° F, the syrup is viscous and forms gooey threads when a bit is dropped into water.
• Soft-ball stage: 235° F to 240° F, the syrup forms a squishy ball when a bit is dropped in water.
• Firm-ball stage: 245° F to 250° F, the syrup forms a firm ball that can still be mashed when a bit is dropped in water.
• Hard-ball stage: 250° F to 265° F, the syrup forms a harder ball when a bit is dropped in water, though it is still somewhat malleable.
• Soft-crack stage: 270° F to 290° F, the syrup forms hard threads that will bend before they break when a bit is dropped in water.
• Hard-crack stage: 300° F to 310° F, the syrup forms hard, brittle threads when a bit is dropped in water.

Tami Ganeles-Weiser is a food anthropologist, trained chef, recipe developer, writer and founder of TheWeiserKitchen.com.

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