Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Regarding nuts there are two camps (well three if you count those who are deathly allergic to them): one group just loves nuts and all things nutty and one group not so much. I guess that I fall somewhere in the middle. I do like nuts as solo fliers. I make them often when we are entertaining to munch on with our cocktails, I like them in salads or sprinkled on my veggies, but I am not a huge fan of nuts in sweet treats like quick breads, cookies and especially fudge. That being said, I am crazy for sugared nuts! I love honey roasted peanuts to be sure, by my hands-down favorite are sugared spiced walnuts or pecans. I love them on my caramel apples and in my oatmeal, in my winter salads and just right out of the bowl. And nuts are good for me, right? Practically a health food, I think!

In Cape Cod there is a woman who makes these amazing sugared walnuts called Wicked Walnuts. They are outrageously delicious and addictive and the recipe is obviously a closely guarded secret. Even though I do have a slight walnut sensitivity (they make my mouth peel), that is a small price to pay for eating them! So since I am not currently on the Cape, I will try to recreate the recipe myself....or at least come up with something delicious to tide me over in the meantime.

Her walnuts are sweet and salty, with just a bit of heat, if I recall correctly. And they come packaged with sweetened, dried cranberries too. So this morning I set off on my journey through the wonderful world Internet recipe searches, and came across quite a few recipes, many involving making a caramel out of sugar and spices and then tossing in toasted walnuts. That didn't sound quite right to me. Finally I decided that I would try my old recipe for sugared pecans and see if that did the trick. The recipe is a simple one: toss the nuts with a beaten egg white, and then shake them in a bag of sugar, salt, cinnamon...and my new addition, a dash of cayenne. They are baked slowly, and fill the kitchen with a most heavenly smell!

Update: these walnuts, while delicious, still lacked something when they came out of the oven. I referred back to the picture on the Wicked Walnut website and saw that her's had visable sugar on them. So I created a sugar/spice mixture and tossed the walnuts with it. Bingo! They are perfect.

Sugar and Spice Walnuts

1/2 pound walnut pieces and halves
1 egg white, beaten until frothy
1/2 C sugar
1/2 t salt
3/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 C sweetened dried cranberries

Sugar Topping

1/4 C sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch cayenne
1/2 t salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss walnuts with egg white in a medium sized bowl. Place sugar, salt, and spices into a large zip top bag. Remove walnuts from egg white with a slotted spoon, letting any excess egg drip out. Place nuts in the sugar bag and shake vigorously to coat. Pour out onto greased cookie sheet and separate nuts. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until dry and toasted.

Mix sugar topping in a large bowl. Gently break apart walnuts with a fork or spatula. Place in the bowl with the sugar and toss to coat. Place back on the cookie sheet to cool. When cool, toss with the cranberries and seal in air-tight containers.

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