12 December 2011

Eats: candied pecans

You guys! We are officially in the thick of Christmas season, I do believe. And I am so excited. I honestly told Mr. P several times while writing my dissertation that I wanted to put up my Christmas tree almost as badly as I wanted to be done with finishing my Ph.D. I adore the Christmas season.

That’s why the next two weeks on this blog are henceforth called...

So welcome to the Redheaded Stepchild’s Christmastravaganza, in which I’ll have a happy holiday post every day for the next two weeks! And today is all about one of my favorite holiday treats which has nearly become a tradition in our home: candied nuts. I love making them for parties – they make excellent treats in a bowl on a coffee table for guests to nosh on. They’re also wonderful stocking stuffers! (If you’re my family, you should forget I just said that.) And they’re deliciously addictive, which means that if you’re making them for a party or as a gift like I just suggested, you either need to bag them up right away or possess extraordinary willpower not to eat them all yourself.

They’re simple to make for how delicious they are. You only need a few eggs, sugar (white and brown), cinnamon, salt, and of course, nuts. I use pecans here but I’ve also done whole almonds, which were delicious. Walnuts, hazelnuts, even peanuts would be tasty, I’m sure!

You start by separating the eggs to yield the egg whites (three eggs’ worth, if you are using four cups of nuts like me). They are fancier ways to separate eggs, but I’m a fan of the “crack it and let all the white slip out with the yolk still inside” method:

Sure, it sometimes requires fishing out bits of shell or an entire yolk out of the bowl. But hey, it gets the job done, right?

Then mix up the egg whites with three teaspoons of vanilla (one per egg). Whip it with a fork until the mixture is well-combined and foamy:

Throw in the nuts, and stir to coat them with the egg white and vanilla mixture. Here, I used four cups of pecans for the three egg whites. But if you want to scale the recipe down, you don’t have to be exact – just know that you’ll get more coating with more egg mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix up the sugar coating: one cup of white sugar, one cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and teaspoon of salt. I totally forgot the salt in this picture, so I sprinkled it over the nuts later while they were roasting, and they turned out fine.

Yes, normally I refuse to mix up ingredients in a separate bowl, but it really does seem to matter this time (promise). Mix up those dry ingredients in the separate bowl, then add the sugar-cinnmamon mixture to the wet pecans a little at a time, stirring to coat evenly.

At first the sugar will remain granulated, but it dissolves in the wet egg-vanilla mixture as you stir. No worries, that’s fine.

Then it’s time to roast them! Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F, and line some baking sheets with foil. Trust me – this is messy and you want to protect your baking sheets with foil. I also spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray (butter flavor, mmm!) to help with the mess.

Spread out the nuts as evenly as you can on the baking sheet. They’re sticky, and they’ll try to glob together, but they’ll roast better in a single layer.

Then pop them in the oven! They need to be roasted for an hour, but you really need to take them out every fifteen minutes and toss them around. Yes, fifteen. Don’t be cute and assume that every twenty minutes (thus eliminating one trip to the oven) will be fine like I once did. I’m all for shortcuts, and yet I’m telling you that fifteen is best. After the first fifteen minutes they look like this straight out of the oven:

That yummy, gooey sugar coating will harden into one big glob of sugared pecans if you don’t toss them around frequently enough! It’ll taste the same but won’t be as pretty. I use a spatula and shove everything in the center to evenly re-coat the nuts, then spread them back out to resume roasting.

Each time you toss them the sugar mixture will be less gooey, until the hour is up and you’re left with delicious candied nuts – and a fantastic-smelling house! Bonus, right?

These are super sugary (obviously, look at those ingredients!) and yet addictive, so if you’re snacking on them, a small portion is wise. If you don’t portion them out, you might suddenly discover you’re out of nuts with a much higher chance of developing diabetes.

Or save yourself the calories (well, after a small sample) and spread some holiday cheer by making these for your friends and family! Everyone knows that gifts automatically don’t have any calories, of course. Enjoy!