Roca Madness


12 Zuercher-1By Liz Zuercher


My adult son called me a bitch last Christmas, but I wasn’t insulted.

It’s all about my famous almond roca, which inspires obsession, to eat it and to make it.  If you succeed in making the roca, it becomes yours, no matter whose it was before.  To me it’s a roca family tree, and I am the matriarch.

I’m happy to share the recipe, but even though it’s simple, a cup of sugar, a cup of butter and a cup of whole blanched almonds, it can be tricky.  So, I have become the almond roca hotline.

Last December my son, Eric, and my friend, Nancy, wanted to make the candy.  First came the frantic call from Nancy. “I’ve got an oily mess here,” she said.  “What am I doing wrong?”

Since this happened to me when I used regular almonds instead of blanched almonds, I asked if she’d used blanched.  “I couldn’t find whole blanched almonds, so I blanched them myself,” she said.  “It took forever, popping off all those skins.”  Impressive.

“How much butter?” I asked.  Once a friend used one pound instead of one cup.

“One cup,” she said.

“Maybe the heat wasn’t right,” I said.

“Maybe it’s the pan,” she said.

Over the next few days, Nancy tried every kind of almond, skillet and burner temperature.  She burned this batch, undercooked that one and threw away another.  I was stumped.

That’s when Eric called.

“I’ve got an oily mess,” he said.  “What am I doing wrong?”

Uh oh, I thought.

“Whole blanched almonds?” I asked.

“I blanched them myself,” he said.

I had a new respect for my son and my friend, blanching all those almonds.

“One cup of butter?  Not one pound?”

“Mom,” he said with disgust, “I know what a cup of butter is.”

“Maybe blanched slivered almonds?” he said.

“Didn’t work for Nancy,” I said.

“I’m going to the store,” he said.  “I have to have this for tomorrow.”

An hour later, he called again.

“I’ve tried slivered, sliced and regular almonds.  I still have junk.”  He was distraught.  The mom in me needed to help.

“Okay, let’s figure this out,” I said.  “There are only three ingredients. One’s a problem.  It can’t be the sugar.  You’ve used every possible kind of almond, so it’s not that.  That leaves the butter. What kind are you using?”

“Regular unsalted butter,” he said.

“Unsalted?”  I said.  “I don’t use unsalted.  Maybe it needs the salt.”

It was 10 o’clock, but Eric was determined. Off to the store he went. I waited nervously until the phone rang.

“You brilliant bitch!” he said.

“It worked?” I said.

“Yep,” he said.

There’s something exhilarating about sharing a victory with your kid, even if he has just called you a bitch.  We basked in the glow of our victory.

I told Nancy about the salted butter. The next afternoon she, too, called to report success.

Now there are two new branches on my almond roca family tree.  Eric’s friends rave about “Eric’s Almond Roca” and Nancy’s friends say there’s nothing as good as “her” candy.

I’m such a proud brilliant bitch.


Liz Zuercher writes fiction and personal essays and co-authors the blog, Little Bit Everything in Tasty Sauce,

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