01 November 2010

Spiced Nuts

One of the lovely customs here in Belgium is that whenever you're invited to someone's house for dinner, you take a gift. Nobody ever shows up empty-handed. This gift can be flowers, a plant, a bottle of wine, or something else that you know the host/hostess will like. Often it's chocolate.

When we go to someone's house, we normally bring chocolates. This past weekend, however, we were invited for dinner and we couldn't take chocolates--we were going to the home of our chocolatier! He certainly had enough of his own chocolates to satisfy him, and taking chocolates from a rival wouldn't have been very nice. So...what?

What's better than something from the kitchen? Pillsbury's jingle aside, there is (for me) something special about a gift from the kitchen. No, not wooden spoons...

I thought and thought and thought. Cookies? Nah. Macarons? No, they're everywhere here—not as special as in other places. A cake? No, not the right note. Finally I decided to make some spiced nuts. They're a little special, and not something that you find here. I looked at lots of recipes, and in the end combined several to make my own. No surprise there!

I wanted something that didn't have a thick coating of sugar, something that wasn't too spicy. This recipe found a nice balance between the two. I used spices that I had on hand. If you don't have Old Bay (why don't you???), you can use some celery salt, some black pepper, some Chinese five spice seasoning and a little dry mustard. It won't be the same, but it will get you in the ballpark. Or you can just leave it out and use something that you have that you like.

These turned out to be just what I was looking for. This recipe made a LOT—4 ½ cups of nuts is more than really needed. It's not going to be a problem to get rid of them, though—they make wonderful gifts. Heh, I may make another batch or two for Christmas. You should too.

Oh, and the dinner? It was a triumph. This time of year here there is a lot of game to be had at the butcher's shop. For our main course we had civet de biche, which is doe (a deer, a female deer) cooked in a lovely rich sauce. The first course was foie gras and all its accompaniments, and dessert was a moelleux—a molten chocolate cake with a liquid center served with a crème anglaise and some fresh berries. And to go with each and every course there was wonderful conversation and lots of laughter. It was a wonderful evening!

Spiced nuts

2 egg whites
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
110 g / ½ cup white sugar
50 g / ¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
90 g / 6 oz butter, melted and cooled
4 ½ cups mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 160 C / 325 F

  • In a small bowl mix all the dry spices together.
  • In a large bowl beat egg whites till very foamy and opaque. You want them to start to thicken, but you don't want them white. Gradually add the dry ingredients, beating all the time. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the butter. Whisk a little more.
  • Add the nuts and stir well to coat them. Spread the mixture in a shallow pan, making sure to use all the 'batter' in the bowl.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes, till starting to brown. Stir them every 5 minutes or so. They will crisp up as they cool, so don't expect them to be crisp at the end of the baking time.
  • Remove from oven and spread out on a non-stick surface to cool. You can use silpats, aluminum foil, large platters or a stone countertop. When they start to cool, break up the clusters and leave them to cool completely.
  • Pack into pretty (airtight) jars. Try not to eat all the pecans before you give them away.

Makes about 4 ½ cups.


  • The first time I mixed up these spices I put some paprika in there. Unfortunately, the only paprika I had was the hot kind, and it was very smoky. I didn't like the way it overpowered the other spices. I threw that mix out and started again. I still think that paprika would add something here—but it would have to be the sweet kind.
  • Next time I make this I think I'll leave out the butter. It didn't add anything to the flavor, and it made the nuts a little greasy. I am pretty sure it's not necessary. I'll leave it out next time, and if that turns out to be a mistake I'll come back here and edit this post. For now, though, I'm thinking that the butter can be left out.


Amanda said...

How did you know that's what happens to my pecans?!? These are going on my list to make for the holidays, they look so wonderful! And the dinner sounds like it was amazing.

Linda said...

Lovely gift and the nuts look delicious!Who would not be thrilled to receive them?

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Absolutely lovely and classy gift. Who would love roasted pecans? Very southern and gracious.

thespicegarden said...

I love all the wondeful things one can do with spiced nuts ... they're the perfect hostess gift. You get to make a batch to give and keep some for your salads, knoshing, additions to veggie recipes, and additions to stuffings! Love it, Kate!

The Urban Baker said...

I just stumbled upon you and I LOVE your story. Good for you for picking up and leaving. I fantasize about that all the time. 12 more years, when my little one is off to college. I am going to come and find you!

Oh, love the nuts as well!

Cathy said...

What a perfect gift! Glazed nuts are one of my favorite treats and I've never would have thought to use Old Bay as a seasoning. This is bookmarked for the upcoming holiday season. Thanks for sharing.

Stella said...

Hey Kate! Your nuts sound delicious, and like a very nice gift for a chocolatier for sure. Ooh, and you packaged them so pretty like (smile)...!

Medifast Coupon Codes said...

What a great idea. We always take a small gift as well when going out on the holiday circuit. And love doing a homemade gift of some sort.
Just have to be aware of nut allergies.

Torviewtoronto said...

delicious gift idea

Hungry Dog said...

What a perfect hostess gift! I am stealing your idea. I think first I need to make one batch just for us though :)

Barbara said...

Not only in Belgium, Kate. I always take a hostess gift! Your spiced nuts recipe beats my old Martha Stewart one by miles. Old Bay Seasoning is an interesting ingredient. Can't wait to try them!

grace said...

hostess gifts are a nicety that we should really bring back here in america--i always try to take a little something along. nuts are a great idea, especially around the holiday season!

Rich said...

These are great! The in-laws want me to make something as an appetizer or snack this Thanksgiving, and these will be perfect!