Candied pecans

Super simple candied pecans

These spicy-salty candied pecans are enough to drive anybody nuts
These spicy-salty candied pecans are enough to drive anybody nuts

Did you know: I had a nut allergy in a dangerous time. You know, the ’80s — a time when children ran amok with peanut butter sandwiches all up in their grills, and granola bar labels were alarmingly vague about the presence of nuts. And there I was, cowering in the corner, in a pneumatically sealed food bubble carefully crafted by my poor mother who had no choice but to send me to other kids’ birthday parties with my own allergen-free cake. It was a sad and fearful time, which extended to a lifelong nut avoidance. “That’s so sad, you can’t eat peanut butter/Nutella/this amazing thing I’m eating in front of you,” people would say. “It’s okay,” I’d shrug. “It just tastes like allergic to me.” It wasn’t too terrible because, frankly, I didn’t know what I was missing.

So, you can imagine my bewilderment when, not too long ago, I discovered that I can now eat most nuts aside from peanuts. (I actually suspect I was not allergic to most nuts all along, but can I blame my mother for worrying?) This has been a complete and total game-changer. For the first time in my life, I am gleefully and recklessly just putting nuts in EVERYTHING. Salads, baked goods, eating them all by themselves, what have you (giving my mother a heart attack in the process). With the holidays around the corner, what better time to share with you this recipe for roasted salty, sweet and spicy pecans, which is my new love? (Also, if you add cream and butter and sugar and salt to pecans, they’re still super good for you, right? I’m new to nuts.)

This recipe is amazingly quick to put together and should appeal to those who shy away from complicated baked goods. You need only a handful of ingredients and one mixing bowl and boom — lightly candied, buttery pecans with a crunch of sea salt and a pleasing, numbing hint of heat. They make a wonderful holiday gift that’s outside the usual box of homemade cookies. These are also a huge hit at parties. If I were you, I’d ration them, because the first bowl you put out will disappear faster than you can say “anaphylactic reaction.”

Salty-Spicy-Sweet Pecans

Makes 4 cups

  • 1 lb (4 cups) whole pecans
  • 80 ml (¼ cup) brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) melted butter (see below for tips)
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) heavy cream
  • Generous pinch cayenne pepper
  • Coarse sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Line a large baking sheetPecans with parchment paper or oil-brushed foil.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in cream, cayenne pepper and about ½ tsp of salt.
  3. Add pecans and stir until evenly coated.
  4. Spread pecans onto baking sheet evenly and bake for 22–25 minutes, stirring three or four times during baking so they roast evenly. Watch the edges of the pan to make sure the outer pecans don’t burn.
  5. Remove pecans from oven and sprinkle evenly with another ¾ tsp of salt. Allow nuts to cool completely. Store in an airtight container (will keep up to two weeks).

Tips for melting butter like a champion

  • Heat up the butter in a small pan. Pans with a heavier base (cast iron, for example) work well because they distribute heat more evenly
  • Always use low heat, lest you burn the butter or separate the milk solids
  • Once it’s about three-quarters melted, remove from heat and stir until the last few solid pieces turn to liquid

Sara Chan is a Toronto-based entertainment lawyer, food enthusiast and unprofessional home chef. Her favourite food group is pork.

Illustration by Jeannie Phan