The only problem with this super crunchy and delicious spiced pecans recipe is that it's hard to not eat them all in one sitting. Candied spiced nuts make such a good party snack or host/holiday gift, but the fact that they are such a crowd-pleaser is exactly the problem. You can't have just one!!
These super-crunchy spiced pecans are great for nibbles, either as a festive snack or as a little 3pm pick-me-up during a long day. This style of candied spiced nuts has a sturdy sugared coating that catches spices and flavorings perfectly. I've used chopped rosemary for the ultimate coziness, a touch of soy sauce for subtle savoriness, and dried chili for an extra kick. As a base method, though, this candied nut recipe is endlessly adaptable.
Spiced pecans vs other nuts
You can use any unroasted nut for this recipe, I just happen to like almost mapley flavor that pecans have. Walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc are all terrific and work well in this recipe. To be frank, I personally think you should use what's on sale, because nuts are pricey.
Customize your spice level
You can make these with or without dried chili. A quarter teaspoon of a milder powder or flake will give you a subtle tingle on your tongue, while a spicier chili or larger quantity will give you more of a blooming heat.
I like chili flakes more than powder because it creates little pops of spice instead of blanketing the whole batch. However, you might want to avoid the basic "chili flakes" that you find on pizza joint tables. That type contains a lot of seeds and dried chili membrane, which makes the blend very spicy. Look for jars that are all (or mostly) chili flesh, with little to no seeds. Silk chilies (aka Aleppo chili) or gochugaru are my favorites.
Rosemary for extra aromatic oomph
The rosemary is 100% optional here, but I do really like what it adds to an otherwise straightforward bowl of candied spiced nuts. The slightly piney aroma of rosemary is just plain cozy. In the colder months it evokes pots simmering on the stove or roasts baking in the oven. In the summer, hot and smoky grills churning out steaks and juicy shrimp. Rosemary is welcome at all of my parties.
How to get the best crunchy spiced pecan texture:
There are many ways to candy nuts. Some involve egg white as an easy binder, but they tend to lack that true "crunch" that I adore. Some go for a "simple" caramel that gives a glossy finish.
But, sugar is fussy. In a home kitchen, making small batches, it's nearly impossible to get that glossy, mirror finish without the sugar clumping or fancy maneuvers. If you do manage, chances are your bowl of shiny nuts will be sticky and glomp together.
That's why this technique, which is kind of a hybrid of many, leans into the crystallization. Letting the sugars do what they naturally want to do takes the pressure off of you, and ultimately creates a lovely and thick crunchy layer. Keeping them in the pan a bit longer makes sure you get that caramelized flavor. You can see the slightly richer shade of brown in the photo above. Another minute in the pan deepens the caramelization of the spiced pecans, which plays up the roasty savory flavors.
I'm going to repeat this again in the recipe, too, but I'm adding it here because it really is so helpful: get completely set up and read through the recipe before you even think of turning on your stove. This is a really straightforward process, but once things start moving it all happens fast and needs to be babysat. If you're repeatedly scanning a recipe to remind yourself of what comes next, the sugars will be more likely to burn.
Get everything all lined up, including your landing pad for the finished nuts--when they're done, they've gotta get out of the pan quickly to stop the cooking.
Double check the visual cues you're looking for, and if you have a hard time keeping track in your head, you might like to print out the recipe to highlight or underline the key visual cues.
Looking for more snacky side recipes?
Sweet and Savory Spiced Pecans with Rosemary
- 1½ cups untoasted, unsalted nuts, Pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc
- ½ cup white sugar
- 3 tablespoons water, plus extra for deglazing
- ¼ teaspoon soy sauce or maggi seasoning, Optional
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chili flakes or powder, Optional
- 1 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- Smoked or plain flaky sea salt, Optional
- Before BeginningHave a baking sheet and a few tablespoons of extra water at the ready. Read through the recipe--this is a quick-moving process and you'll have the best success if you know what's coming next and don't have to squint too much at the recipe cues.
- Step 1In a large skillet combine the nuts, sugar, 3 tablespoons water, soy sauce (if using), and chili (if using). Place over medium-high heat and stir, fairly constantly, until the sugar has melted and the resulting syrup has begun to boil, about 3 minutes.
- Step 2Continue stirring until the sugars have started to crystallize and clump around the nuts, another 5 minutes or so. You’ll see the sugars start to crystallize on the surface of the pan, and then the syrup will start clumping around the nuts about a minute later. Stir constantly, moving and mixing the nuts to make sure they are cooking evenly.
- Step 3About 1 minute after the sugars have clumped you will start to see the film of sugar on the pan begin to re-melt. At this point, sprinkle the rosemary over the nuts and continue to stir. **The natural steam from the nuts should gradually soften the crystallized film of sugar, but you may end up with some stubborn spots that don't re-melt. If necessary, drizzle a very small amount of water on any stubborn spots to help dissolve the crystallized patches on the pan. Take care to avoid the resulting steam—it will scald you! Stir and scrape up the loosened sugar bits, mixing them in with the melting sugar.
- Step 4Continue stirring until the nuts have darkened to your liking, then sprinkle in the flaky salt and pour the nuts onto the baking sheet. Spread into an even layer and let cool.
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