Spiced Candied Pecans
• 2 tsp ground cinnamon
• 2 tsp ground ginger
• 1 tsp ground cloves
• ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
• Pinch salt
• ¼ cup water
• ¾ cup sugar
• 1 ½ cups pecan halves, lightly toasted
1. Mix together the spices and salt.
2. Put a candy thermometer into a heavy saucepan; heat the water and the sugar over medium-high heat (yep, it’s candymaking again). If you want, you can wipe down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped into some water. It’s not going to matter that much, though, in the long run. You’ll see why in a moment. When the syrup reaches 236°, remove the thermometer.
3. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the nuts. Keep stirring until the syrup crystallizes and becomes dry – it’s going to become very stiff and choppy, so take care not to break the nuts while stirring. This will take about 1 minute.
4. Continue to stir for several minutes until the sugar crystals in the bottom of the pan begin to liquefy. It may seem like it’s NEVER going to happen, but be patient; it will. Add the spice mixture and keep stirring over low heat until most of the sugar crystals have melted and the nuts are coated, dark and glossy. Do not overcook – if this happens, you’ll be able to smell burning nuts, and they’ll take on blackened color.
5. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, separating them with your hands once they are cool enough to handle. Let them to cool completely. Store the nuts in an airtight container for up to one week.
The whole “wiping down the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water” thing is kind of unnecessary here. After you’ve gotten the simple syrup made, you’re going to intentionally cause it to get all grainy by throwing in the nuts and forcing it to crystallize. So you don’t have to be too delicate about the process leading up to this point. Afterwards, you’re going to continue cooking until the sugar has no choice but to re-melt, essentially.
The spice blend is from the pastry chef David Lebovitz, who knows more about this stuff than I ever will. It’s a really good balance – you start eating them, and you think, wow, it’s got a little kick to it, but they’re also crunchy and sweet… I’m not sure if these are dessert or not. And indeed, I’d imagine these would be really good sprinkled on a salad of bitter greens and bright, salty, creamy cheese. If you’re a wuss about heat, you can leave the cayenne out, but it won’t have the same zing. Really, that small of a pinch of cayenne is just enough to give your lips a little tingle, but not burn a layer of skin off the roof of your mouth. Feel free to play around with the spice blend, just keep the final proportions the same. Also, I suggest using a mix of spices instead of just one spice. Remember: “spiced” nuts are dessert, but “clove” nuts are overpowering.
I suppose you could use walnuts instead of pecans, but I just don’t know why you’d want to. As far as I’m concerned, anything a walnut can do, a pecan can do better.
Pairs Well With
I found this recipe in a cookbook by David Lebovitz and made this one Christmas for my dad. I’ve now taken to making these most Christmases for my dad, who loves nuts. I also give them as gifts to friends and co-workers. I’ll make a triple batch – I like to think that all that stirring is a good workout, which has then burned off enough calories for me to indulge. It’s not true, but I like to think it. You can pick up small food-grade cellophane gift baggies, fill with these nuts, and then tie them closed with ribbon – they make nice party favors or little individual gifts for people you know.