Sunday, 27 December 2009

Easy Candied Nuts

by Kate
Living a Frugal Life

Originally uploaded by elana's pantry

I'm a pretty do-it-yourself kind of woman when it comes to food. If something tempts me at a farmer's market, grocery store, or on a restaurant menu, or if I sample something delicious that a friend has made, I'll usually take a stab at making it myself at home. There's a lot to be said for intrepid experimentation in the kitchen. This winter I seem to be coming across candied nuts everywhere I turn. They're quite trendy at the moment, commonly paired with dried cranberries in a spinach salad. Of course, they're also perennial mainstays in the bowls of nibbly appetizers at holiday parties. 'Tis the season, I suppose.

So I decided to try candied nuts at home too. Nuts are generally expensive enough on their own. No need to pay even more for a little superficial processing. What I found out is that making candied nuts is surprisingly easy to do. And the amount of sugar in standard recipes can be drastically reduced if you're not aiming for a super-sweet party treat, or if you simply don't need lots of extra sugar in your diet. The recipe I've given below makes for somewhat sweet nuts, but even less sugar can be used and the "candy" coating will taste mostly of the spices with only the faintest sweetness.

Start with a small egg if you can get one. You'll only need one egg white to make a fairly large batch of candied nuts. Also start with raw nuts, preferably whole or halves. They don't need to have the skins removed. You can mix them in whatever proportions you prefer. I like a mixture of pecan, almonds, and hazelnuts, but many other types will work nicely. The spices can be tailored to your own tastes, but I've listed a combination I like that doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the nuts themselves.

Easy Candied Nuts

1 egg, preferably small
1/4 cup sugar (~60 ml)
a scant 1/8 tsp. cayenne powder
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
10-12 ounces raw nuts (280-340 g)

Preheat the oven to 300 F/150 C. Line a large baking sheet, or two smaller baking sheets, with baker's parchment, or grease them well.

Separate the egg and set aside the yolk for another purpose. Put the white into a small mixing bowl and beat it with an electric mixer just until it becomes opaque. Add the sugar and spices and beat for another minute or two until it is quite foamy. Mix 10 ounces of the nuts into the beaten egg white mixture, stirring well so that all surfaces of the nuts are well coated with the liquid. If there is an excess of the egg white mixture, add the remaining 2 ounces of nuts to the bowl and stir to distribute the coating over all the nuts evenly.

Arrange the nuts in an even layer on the baking sheet, separating them as well as possible. Bake them in the oven for 35 minutes. If you are using two smaller baking sheets, reverse their positions top to bottom and also rotate them 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. Allow the nuts to cool to room temperature after baking. When fully cooled, store them in a tightly sealed jar in a cabinet. They will keep for two weeks, if they last that long.

If you want a really festive and indulgent version of these nuts, double the sugar. Play around with the spices, substituting nutmeg for the cardamom, and cloves for the cayenne. Or try adding vanilla seeds scraped from inside a vanilla bean for a decadent treat. The egg yolk from this recipe could go into a lovely homemade garlic aioli for crudites or polishing off the holiday roast in sandwiches. It could also be used in a batch of lemon curd, in ravioli filling, rice pudding, or even tempera paint!

The nice thing about these nuts is that I can rip off those fancy restaurant presentations by including them in my salads at home. For next year, I'm also adding candied nuts to my list of homemade goodies that can be given as holiday gifts. And there's still time to use these at a New Year's party. Just about everyone can enjoy them since they're vegetarian, gluten-free, and can be integrated with either meat or dairy kosher meals. For those watching their sugar intake, you can cut the sugar back even farther from the 1/4 cup I listed in the recipe above. Enjoy!