Spiced holiday nuts
For me, Christmas and nuts have always been closely related. During the holiday seasons of my childhood, my parents always had a bowl of nuts around, usually with their shells still intact. Fighting to break through that protective layer and pick out the bits of sweet meat from inside was something I always loved doing, and it was a tradition I continued after I left home.
In recent years, however, I've discovered an even better treat, and one that requires less work: spiced nuts. Specifically, the Sweet & Spicy Holiday Nuts from Bridgehead. (No, I don't work for the company, I'm just a happy customer.) These nuts don't provide the satisfaction of a shell to break through, but they make up for it with a crunchy coating of salt, sugar and spices, including one spice with a bit of kick to it that makes them more interesting than mere cinnamon would.
This year, though, my timing (or theirs) was apparently off: even though I was in Ottawa at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the nuts were not available for sale yet in any of the four Bridgehead stores I visited. It was time to make my own.
I knew I'd never be able to match the exact seasoning, but I figured that gave me the freedom to tweak it to perfection. The real challenge was figuring out exactly how to get the clumps of sugar and spice to stick to the nuts. A little poking around online turned up the answer: egg white!
The recipe I ended up using was loosely based on this one at Epicurious. I changed it by by mkaing up my own spice mix, a combination of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, ancho chile powder and cayenne pepper. I also omitted the crystallized ginger, even though I love it; it just wasn't what I was looking for in my holiday nuts. The spice proportions weren't quite what I was looking for (next time I'd use more cayenne), but the results were certainly tasty.
I would note two things in particular with this one: First, make sure your nuts are fresh. I had a small bag of age-unknown filberts in the cupboard, and mixed them in with the new bag I had just bought. I had tested one of them, and it seemed fine, but I've since come across some pretty rancid ones in the finished product. Second, make sure your spices are fresh, or at least all of the same freshness. We just opened a new tin of allspice, and its flavour ended up dominating all the other spices in the mix.
The recipe makes a lot, but keeps well. Serve it at your Christmas party!
Spiced holiday nuts
- A few teaspoons of your favourite spices (I used something like 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. each of cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and ancho chile powder and 1/4 tsp. of cayenne)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 large egg whites
- 6 cups mixed nuts (I used unsalted ones from the baking aisle so I could control how salty they were. I used a mix of almonds, filberts, cashews, pecans and brazil nuts. Walnuts would be good, too, but they didn't have any walnut halves at the store where I was shopping.)
- 1/4 cup sugar