Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mandelhoernchen Melancholy

If you read my post earlier this week then you know last weekend I had a disaster in the kitchen. I was pretty bummed. Mandelhoernchen was a recipe that I had been searching for for over 10 years and I was so excited to finally find it and be able to make it. You can imaging my disappointment when it didn't turn out as expected. But, alas, if you are going to try new things, you just have to accept that they won't always turn out right. The point is, keep trying. 

Through my years of cooking, or learning to cook, there has been lots of trial and error. In the early days, mostly lots of error. But a mistake is only a mistake if you don't learn from it. Believe me, I've learned A LOT. With each recipe, regardless of outcome, you learn about the ingredients, the technique, the flavors. You learn about what works and what doesn't, that's really how you get good any anything. Whenever my children get disappointed that they aren't "good" at something, sports, a musical instrument, cooking, I tell them "You have to be willing to be bad if you want to be good." No one starts out an expert at anything, the trick is to keep trying, keep learning. And even, like me, the veterans make mistakes from time to time. 

So what did I learn last weekend? Hmmmm, let's start by examining the mistakes, they are so obvious now, in hind sight.

First Mistake: I made my own almond paste. Now this isn't really a mistake as I think it turned out pretty good. It was easy to make and if you've seen the price of almond paste you'll know why I tried it this way. Much, much less expensive. But almond paste isn't an ingredient that I'm very familiar with. I have used it just once or twice before so I wasn't super confident about how mine turned out. The smart thing would have been to purchase some and compare it to what I had made, just to be sure. But I didn't.

Second Mistake: Because I was uncertain about the consistency of my almond paste, I added some additional liquid (in this instance, Amaretto) just to loosen it up. Shouldn't have!

Third Mistake: Per the recipe, I went the "short cut route" and used my food processor instead of my mixer. Should have used the mixer so that it would mix rather than cut up the ingredients.

Fourth Mistake: I added all the egg whites at once and the whole thing turned into a big gluey mess. Should have added them one at a time, checking the consistency along the way.

Fifth Mistake: I tried to "fix" it. I just started to add more and more almond paste and some sugar into the processor thinking it would get thicker. Instead it just got lumpy and then my processor started sounding and smelling funny. I'm praying that I didn't burn out the motor. I haven't turned it on since, I'll keep you posted on it's fate. Have you seen the movie "Tin Cup"? You know the scene where he just keeps whacking at ball after ball, trying to make the shot. Doesn't know when to give up and ends up losing the tournament? Seen that? Well, that was me in the kitchen. Just didn't know when to call it quits.

At the end of it all I was out, 2 pounds of home made almond paste, sugar, eggs, possibly my food processor, and my ego. I don't even want to think about all the time I spent, blanching, peeling and grinding the almonds for the almond paste. All that work and it ended up in the trash. (Except my food processor, I hope!)

So what did I learn? Lots! First of all, make sure your are familiar with the nature of an ingredient before attempting to make it on your own. Second, don't take shortcuts, even if the recipe says it will work. Third, know when to recognize that things have gone wrong and know when to throw in the towel and start over. And lastly, try again.

Almond Paste Comparisson
Left: "Odense" Pure Almond Paste, the smoothest. Middle: My home made, definitely the best almond flavor!
Right: "Solo", kind of bitter, kind of oily, smoother then mine.

I'm happy to report that my second attempt at Mandelhoernchen was a success. I used store bought almond paste, purchasing two different brands just to compare. I added the egg whites one at a time until the consistency was right. I followed the recipe exactly as written, no short cuts. And they turned out just as I had remembered. Delicious, chewy, crispy and almondy. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I will most surely be making these again. I need to play around a bit with the recipe before I'm ready to post it for you but I promise I will. 

So please, go forth, try new things and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from them, you'll be happy you did.


  1. Love this post. Saying right up front that you messed up made me want to read it right away. (human nature, sorry) Keep it up Becks. Good job.

  2. Thanks Lara, really appreciate the support. I find the best way to redeem a mistake is to own it! And BTW, makes my day when someone comments on my blog. Cheers!

  3. I came across your post while trying to fix my Mandelhoernchen. I'm in the process of adding more almond paste and sugar, but after reading this, I think I'll just start over now.

    1. Michele, I hope you got it fixed. Mandelhoernchen is fussy but once you master it, it is oh so good! Keep at it, it's worth it. Thanks for reading my blog and Merry Christmas.

  4. Haha! I'm just reading this now because I tanked a batch of Mandelhoernchen today by making my own almond paste. I added too much liquid to loosen it up for the Vitamix, thought it seemed a bit runny but thought maybe that was OK. Ha ha ha no.

    The resulting batter was um, definitely not shapeable! But I poured it onto a baking sheet, threw almonds on it, and baked it anyway. It was delicious, if not quite as intended....

  5. Alaeriel, sorry your Mandelhoernchen didn't work out but glad it tasted good. Not sure what recipe you used for homemade almond paste but check out my post for homemade. I've used both recipes in several different recipes including Mandelhoernchen with great success. Keep trying and thanks for reading my blog!