Sugar and spice…quick, what’s the first thing you think of? Cinnamon sugar, perhaps? There’s nothing wrong with cinnamon sugar but sometimes I think it’s more interesting to pair up flavors that don’t usually get to hang out together. Like cayenne pepper and brown sugar. And cumin. And paprika. And chipotle.
My favorite application of this combination is usually as a pork rub. I pile it on good and thick and get a smoky sweet crust. So when I was in search of a recipe to make for the holidays, I started with the flavors I wanted and worked my way backwards to find the medium. I mean the pork is good and everything, but I’m pretty sure a spice rubbed pork loin is not what someone wants to find when they open their gift box.
My selection criteria included quick, easy, and ships well. A search on FoodNetwork.com got me to Emeril’s Spiced Nut recipe. The first batch, I made exactly as the recipe directed. And they were pretty bad. I don’t know why, but the recipe called for butter…4 tablespoons of it. Butter certainly has its place in my cooking but when I’m thinking candied anything, butter doesn’t come into play. Instead of nuts evenly coated with a spicy sugar shell, they were greasy and the sugar was clumpy. So I got to thinking, what if I cut out the butter entirely? It couldn’t be any worse than the first batch that ended up in the trash.
I was pleased to find that eliminating the butter did the trick. The nuts were smoky and spicy with a sweet candy shell. Learn from my mistake and don’t add too much water to the pan. If you do, the candy coating gets too sticky.
Now all I need to do is package them up and get them shipped out. If you see a box in your mail with my return address, I can promise you that it’s not a spice rubbed pork loin. But I think you’ll like this anyway.
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
Notes: Use more cayenne (up to 1 teaspoon) if you like things really spicy. I also added 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika and 1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder. Add 2 tablespoons of water at first and see how well your sugar melts. If it’s still thick and clumped, add the third tablespoon. Use your best nonstick frying pan and be sure to wash it out between batches. Even a little bit of burned sugar will ruin an entire batch. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups unsalted mixed nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 – 3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Mix the spices, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.
In a large dry skillet, place the nuts and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Add the spices, sugar, water, and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts, the sauce thickens, and the nuts are glazed, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the nuts to the prepared baking sheet, separating them with a spatula. Let the nuts stand until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes.
For another spin on the spiced nuts, check out this blog entry by Kim O’Donnel.