Anyone who enjoys a solid Christkindlmart usually makes a beeline for the bratwurst, warm apple strudel, or a hot cup of gluhwein. I, on the other hand, get far too excited about another Deutschland delicacy—Bavarian nuts. If you’ve never had them before, I can only describe them as Christmas in nut form. Most often you’ll find these delicious nuts—usually almonds—served in a conical paper container, covered in sugar and cinnamon, and packing a crunch that’s semi addictive. And if the Christkindlmarket is legit, like several in Chicago, they’re often made to order in a traditional copper pot, meaning they’re still radiating warmth as you pop them into your mouth.
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Beer enthusiasts know Bavaria refers to the southeastern state of Germany, which is home to Oktoberfest. It’s also one of the few regions in the country that is predominantly Catholic (as opposed to Protestant) and is rich in region-specific traditions like producing great nuts! So, Bavarian nuts must be a variety of nut that comes from here, right? Well, sort of.
What Americans refer to as Bavarian nuts is what the Germans call Gebrannte Mandeln. Translation? Burnt nuts. Not the sexiest name, I know, which is probably why nut purveyors in the United States stick with their own moniker. But if you glimpse any German Christkindlmarket vendor list, including Nuremberg’s, the most famous festival in the world, you won’t find anything called “Bavarian nuts.” You will, however find Gebrannte Mandeln, which can also be found in parts of Switzerland.
The earliest mention of Gebrannte Mandeln can be traced to the 17th century at the Munich Oktoberfest. Meaning, one could make the case that they originated in Bavaria. Still, that might not be completely accurate. According to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the dish that came to be known as Gebrannte Mandeln in Germany probably has its origins in the Middle East. Once sugar appeared there, people began caramelizing the sugar crystals, and cooking it with nuts. As they migrated, so did these delicious morsels, reaching parts of Spain, France, Italy, and, later, Germany. This Middle Eastern precursor to Gebrannte Mandeln also proved to be the ancestor of another candied nut—the Jordan almond
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