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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Candied Nuts

This is one of those recipes that's been on my back burner for a number of years now. Ever since I had a salad with candied walnuts in it that made my heart swoon. Somehow, I never got around to giving it a try. I did know that all of the recipes I came across for candied nuts just didn't seem like it would turn out a product like I was looking for. I knew I would have to just trial and error it. Yesterday was my second try, and I got what I was looking for!

Two weeks ago, while out doing some last minute Christmas shopping, I came across a guy selling farm fresh pecans. This might be my favorite thing about the south! So, despite the fact that the salad I still dream about had walnuts on it, I figured it might be a sin to use the grocery store walnuts in my freezer when I had beautiful, farm fresh pecans ready to be eaten... 'course, they were still in the shell.

If you ever find the need to shell pecans, please remember this simple axiom: pecans shell much more easily when they are frozen. Trust me on this one.

Once you have chosen your nut, be sure they are roasted. Candied nuts need to be crunchy and raw nuts simply won't do. You can dry roast them over medium heat in the pan before you get started or you can roast them in the oven at about 250 degrees for a few minutes until they just start to show some color. Set the nuts aside and start working on the candy part.

The proportions of this recipe will vary depending on how many nuts you want to candy. I did about twenty pecan halves in this trial run. I used 3 tablespoons of sugar. You can make as much of the candy coating as you want! This is the most simple coating ever; just be careful, because sugar can get very, very hot and can cause serious burns.

Simply place the sugar in the bottom of a skillet over medium heat. Let it melt and then let it start to caramelize and turn a glorious burnt sienna color. There is not need to stir. Just let it do its thing. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 2 TBS granulated sugar with 1/8 tsp table salt and a dash of cinnamon. Stir to mix. Here is a picture of my sugar about halfway there.

When the sugar on the stove is dark but not too dark (dark caramel can have a bitter flavor), turn the heat down and grab a pair of tongs that you have liberally sprayed with oil. Set up a little assembly line like shown below. I covered a cutting board with parchment as a cooling station.

Using the tongs, coat all sides of each nut with the molten sugar mixture. The nuts will really stick together if you let them; I find it's best to keep them apart as much as possible. Working one nut at a time, coat it with the hot sugar and then transfer it to the small bowl of coating sugar. Toss it around to coat all sides and then place it on the cooling board. While they are tasty almost immediately (please wait long enough to not burn the heck out of your tongue!!), they are best after they have time to completely cool and harden. Then they are crunchy and sweet with just a hint of salty. Great as a snack or as a garnish to salads or desserts!

Candied Nuts
Yield: 20 candied nut halves, can easily be adjusted for any yield

20 whole nut halves, such as pecans or walnuts
3 TBS sugar

2 TBS sugar
1/8 tsp table salt
dash cinnamon

Toast the nut halves in a dry skillet over medium heat or in a 250 degree oven until they just start to show some color. Set aside to let cool.

Place 3 TBS of sugar in a small skillet over medium heat. You do not need to stir the sugar, an occasional shake of the pan if it appears to be melting unevenly is all that is necessary. Let the sugar melt and darken to a light brown color. Do not let it go too far or it will have a bitter flavor.

While the sugar on the stove melts, mix the remaining sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spray a pair of tongs with oil and set up a cooling rack by placing parchment paper over a bowl or cutting board.

When the melted sugar is ready, reduce the heat to low and, one by one, coat the nuts on all sides with the hot sugar and then dip them in the granulated sugar to coat all sides. Shake off the excess and place on the cooling rack. They should be completely cool, crunchy, and ready to use in about half an hour. Keeps for two weeks in an air-tight container.

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