An easy appetizer or snack that can be made days ahead of time, these pecans are really lovely, especially as holiday food. The light crunchy glaze is sweet and peppery; I think they have a much more complex and interesting taste than straight-up salted nuts. And because the spices are trapped in the glaze, they don’t shake off, nor do they leave anything on your hands.
Please note that the recipe below only makes 1.5 cups of nuts. They’re definitely worth the trouble of making them, but I always double the recipe - it’s no more mess, and very little extra effort. (edit: about the mess. Your pans are going to look awful, but the goop melts easily with hot water.)
Stored in a airtight container, these keep nicely for at least a few days (mine have never gone uneaten longer than that) - so a lot of people are getting jars full of these this Christmas. Pecans are stupid expensive but it still works out to be a pretty cheap gift, easy and quick to make, and I’m sure it will make my vet and parents plotz. As always, this recipe looks more complicated than it is, due to my obsessive over-explaining. And as always, please let me know if you make this!
3 tablespoons light corn syrup (supposedly you can use golden syrup but I have never tried this)
1 1/2 tablespoon white sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, fresh-ground if possible
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups pecans or pecan pieces
Make sure your pecans are clean! Even if they are packaged and branded and from a store, there’s bound to be one or two in there that have nasty grotty funky bits. The process of checking your pecans involves looking at the top and bottom of every damn one. It sucks. I usually check mine as soon as I buy them, then label the bag “clean.”
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Lightly coat a baking sheet with vegetable oil. I usually use a cookie sheet but a rectangular cake pan would work fine too. One pan will hold one 1.5-cup recipe. If doubling the recipe, use two pans, don’t try to crowd them onto one. And if doubling, it is imperative that you stagger the timing of the pans, please trust me, otherwise it will be too much to do at once, at the very end, and half the recipe will get all bitched up.
Combine the syrup, sugar, and spices in a medium or large mixing bowl. You’re going to end up with an orangey sludge that reeks of pepper. Add the pecans to this and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. Try to get the pecans evenly coated, but don’t sweat it. I usually stop when I’m fairly sure all the nuts have at least some of the goo on them.
Dump the nuts out onto the baking sheet. If there’s extra goo left in the mixing bowl, scrape it into the pan as well. Try to make one flat layer of nuts. It’s hard because the stuff’s all sticky, but it’s not a big deal to have a few nuts on top of each other - just don’t leave them all in one huge clump in the center of the pan.
Put this pan in the oven and set a timer for five minutes. During this time, prepare your work surface. You’ll need a flat surface at least as big as the baking sheet. On this, spread one large sheet of aluminum foil. Silpat is infinitely better but foil will work fine.
When the five minutes are up, reach into the oven and stir the pecans around with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. They don’t all need to be perfectly flipped over; your goal is just to at least nudge every pecan a little bit. Again, aim for a single-pecan layer. It will be easier this time as the sugar will have gone liquid.
Close the oven and continue baking the nuts for 8-10 minutes. The timing on mine often varies with humidity, so start checking at 8 minutes. You want to see bubbles forming in the sugar mixture, around the nuts. When you see this, take the pan out of the oven. If doing two pans, this is when you’ll want to put your second pan in, and set the timer for five minutes. You’ll be done with the first pan by the time that timer goes off.
Welcome to the only slightly tricky part of this process. It’s not difficult, just fast. You need to transfer the nuts from the baking sheet to your foil- or silpat-covered work surface. When you do this, the nuts will begin to cool and the sugar will begin to harden. So from the minute you dump the nuts out, understand that the clock is ticking, and you have perhaps two minutes, tops, to get the nuts separated and into the shapes they will remain in. Two minutes is not a lot of time, but it’s completely doable, and the worst thing that can possibly happen is that you’ll have a bunch of delicious nut clusters, instead of individual glazed pecans. Don’t be nervous about it.
I’ve tried several methods and here’s the easiest way: Take the pan out of the oven with one hand and go to your work area. With your other hand, use a heatproof spatula to quickly scrape/dump all the nuts off the sheet and onto your work surface. Ditch the baking sheet, ditch the oven mitt, grab a fork, and use the fork and spatula to separate all the nuts. After thirty seconds, if you are a fool like me, ditch the fork and use your hand. The nuts will still be hot but not super burningly hot. Probably. You can keep working as long as the sugar is pliable. Try to get the nuts as separated as possible, depending on how much you care. Any pieces touching each other will shortly be frozen into that position for good.
Let the nuts cool on this surface. Within ten minutes or so, they’ll be all set and wicked delicious. Serve / eat right away, or pack up for later. My favorite part: in a glass bowl, they jingle.