When Autumn, my favorite season, rears her gorgeous auburn head (whenever I picture the spirit of Autumn in female form, it’s always Mucha-inspired), I start craving those flavors that really only fit well for the season. Baked apples, roasted turkey, bold red wines, spiced pumpkin, cranberries and maple-glazed anything.
This recipe was a few years in the making; during my catering days, we had a Martha Stewart recipe that called for using honey to candy nuts–they were nice, but I never found them that interesting. With the owner’s urging, I started tweaking the recipe, by first moving to maple syrup–the richer flavor worked well with the nuts we generally used, such as pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. I started to add salt and spices. I am a huge fan of the salty-sweet combination (Sea Salt Caramels? Oh, Baby. Come to Mama.), and found that a good dose of kosher salt thrown into the syrup really made these guys special. I’ve experimented with spices, and have found that I like either using ginger, or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and black pepper; I pull out the cinnamon combination for when I’m making these in large quantities to wrap up in little gift bags for the holidays.
I realize that my process is backward, in that I toast the nuts after I’ve applied the maple coating, when the usual way of doing things is toasting the nuts beforehand. I found that putting the nuts in the oven after helps dry out the syrup and promotes a good crunchy outer shell.
1 pound (appx. 4 cups) pecan halves
1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup, Grade B is preferred (and cheaper, but if you can’t find it, A works just fine)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is one pound of pecan halves. Lovely, aren’t they?
This is one of those times a candy thermometer is pretty handy. In fact, for this recipe, I’d say it’s downright necessary.
Pour the maple syrup into a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot. Like so:
But, Jen, that’s a whole lot of pot for just a little bit of syrup, doncha think?
Hush now. Just turn on the flame to medium, and watch what happens when maple syrup boils:
Maple syrup foams up like crazy, so, yes, you need a big pot. While the syrup simmers, prepare the nuts and the seasonings (measure into a small bowl) to be poured in quickly once the syrup reaches the desired temperature. Let the maple syrup simmer for about 15 minutes until it reaches 265°. Turn off heat, and add salt and spices and stir a few times to dissolve. Add nuts and start stirring quickly with a wooden spoon, until the nuts are coated in the syrup. Have a sheet pan lined with parchment paper ready, and pour nuts onto parchment, spreading them out. Bake in a 325° oven for 7-10 minutes, until syrup is completely dry.
Let cool entirely before packing in an airtight container or ziploc bag. These are perfect for fall salads, sprinkled on baked apples, or for just eating out of hand.
Read Full Post »