When I was young, my grandparents would buy season tickets to the Detroit Fox Theater every year. From the start of fall through winter, we would drive into Detroit proper once a month and see a fantastic musical. Maybe I was a little too young for some of them – I cried all the way home after seeing ‘Miss Saigon’, but I’m sure plenty of adults had that reaction as well. One of the fondest memories I have from those times – and this will sound nuts – is walking through the doorway into or out of the theater. Not the grand hallway with the gorgeous ceilings or the red velvet everywhere, the doorway between the cold Detroit winter and the glory of the gilded rooms inside the theater.
Inside that little doorway, cramped and musty as it was – and a little terrifying when I was seven, clutching my mother’s hand to avoid being swept into the sea of strangers’ coats – was where they sold the delicious and warm roasted almonds. A little golden cart in the corner, next to the coat check. The sweet smell would rise over the mustiness and leftover cigarette smoke from the ’60s, and envelope me in such a comforting feeling that I even stopped crying for Miss Saigon for a moment. Of course, we were always in such a rush to get to the show or to get to the car and beat traffic on the way home that I never got the chance to get some of those amazing almonds!
I’ve since had them at those carnivals that pop up in parking lots over the summer, or baseball games, but I will always picture that doorway in the Fox theater whenever I smell that sweet, warm, comforting scent of cinnamon roasted almonds. With the holidays around and everyone prepping or buying party trays, I got a craving for some of those almonds. I decided to make my own at home and see how I faired. Pretty damn well, actually!
I started by separating an egg white to coat the almonds with. I used an egg white because it’s essentially edible glue. When egg whites dry, they will stick to anything and everything. The day after I made these almonds, I found a piece of paper towel stuck to the counter from the egg white. It was so stuck that I had to rip it off as best I could and then soak the spot in a hot, wet towel to get it off.
And if you don’t know the best and easiest way to separate an egg, then let me show you! I learned this trick at the Ravens Club, on one of my first days. Chef saw me trying to separate eggs with the shells and he laughed at me. “Emface,” he said to me, “Crack the shell and then open the egg into your hand. The white will sift through your fingers and the yolk will stay in your hand.” Whoa! It took two seconds, and was super easy!
You can also slip the yolk back and forth between your two hands to separate the yolk from the thick membrane in the white a little faster. But again, this whole process only takes like two seconds.
So I whipped up the egg white with a titch of cold water, probably a teaspoon, and kept whisking until I saw bubbles. I figured that having a fluffed egg white would be better for the baking process. I didn’t want to have clumps of egg white baked onto the almonds. Once the egg white and water had gotten a bit frothy, I threw in some sugar, a pinch of salt, some vanilla and a lot of cinnamon. A lot. In my opinion, there can never be too much cinnamon.
I poured the almonds straight into the mixing bowl and swirled them all around. I had about three cups of raw almonds to work with. Once I saw that all of the almonds had the egg white coating, I laid a sheet of parchment paper over a baking sheet. I scooped out the almonds onto the sheet, careful to try and separate any extra egg white. I spread them around, and put them into the 250 degree oven for an hour. You want to bake these slowly and at a low temp so that they’ll fully roast. No one wants to chomp on a half-baked almond or a burnt one.