Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Consumable Gifts (Countdown to Christmas): Roasted Candied Nuts (gluten, corn, dairy, peanut free options, refined sugar free)

It really is amazing how the sense of smell works.  How entrenched it is in your brain where the memory of a smell can let loose a whole scad of different memories from the deepest recesses of your mind.  That is what roasted candied nuts are to me.  A memory entrenched in smell.

When I was in my Freshmen year of college I went to work for Walt Disney World as part of their college program.  I won't go into great detail about my time there, but needless to say that it was not an enjoyable experience for me.  With a few exceptions.

My favorite park to go to was Epcot Center during my time at Disney (we got into the parks for free...it was the one perk you got when working there).  And one of my favorite things to do while I was there was to hit a roasted candied nut cart that was set up on the way to the food court.  The smell of the nuts roasting would just saturate the air around the cart and it was a vacation for my nose every time I went there.  The nuts themselves were warm, inviting and delicious.  When I think of the holidays (I worked at Disney through the fall and winter months) I still think of roasted candied nuts in association with them, even though I haven't  had candied nuts since I stopped working for Disney a great many years ago.  I've made roasted spiced nuts a couple of times, but always skipped candied nuts...not quite sure why, but I did.

This year I had a craving for candied nuts and thought that they'd be fun to give away as part of gift giving for teachers and therapists.   So, I figured I'd try my hand at making them.  But with a few changes to make them corn free (in case the daughter wanted to try them), peanut free (ditto on the son trying them) and to make them refined sugar free (for a bit of peace of mind on my part).  And they were so good my husband, who doesn't like nuts, was taking baggies of these things to work and my son actually tried one.  It was a good moment :).

To make this recipe peanut free, I'd go with Blue Diamond Almonds (natural raw ones) as they are peanut free for a pre-shelled option.  Or, shell your own, which is what I did with the pecans.  I buy bags of nuts this time of year and stick them still in the shell in the freezer as they'll last a year that way and just shell them as needed.  I found a bag of Kirkland brand shelled pecans that didn't say anything about peanut contamination on the back of the bag, but I haven't had a chance to call the company and confirm that yet.  So, I'd suggest playing it safe whenever possible.

Roasted Candied Nuts (gluten, dairy, corn, peanut, refined sugar free)
  • 2 Cups pecans or other nuts, shelled
  •  1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch to 1/4 tsp (depending on heat preference) Cheyenne pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Combine maple syrup, honey, vanilla and salt in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches a near boil.  Add cinnamon and Cheyenne pepper, stir well and then add nuts to mixture.  Stir well till all nuts are coated with the mixture. 

Bring mixture back to a simmer.  Pour nuts onto a well greased parchment lined baking sheet that has a rimmed edge (grease pan, place parchment on pan and then grease parchment...trust me this stuff is sticky).  Be sure to spread nuts into an even layer on baking sheet.  Place in 400 degree oven for about 7 minutes or until nuts start to smell nutty.  Stir nuts.

Lower heat to 300 degrees and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.  Check nuts after five minutes and stir.  
Keep roasting and stirring nuts every few minutes until sugar mixture turns deep brown and clings to the nuts.  Remove pan from oven and let nuts cool on pan.  Mix nuts a couple of times as they cool (it'll stop them from sticking together as they cool).  You can also sprinkle a little more salt on the nuts before they cool enough to not be sticky anymore, but be gentle with it as you don't want the salty taste overpowering your sweet.
Place in a bowl and store at room temperature (trust me they won't last long), or place in an airtight container for longer storage (use within a couple of months if in a decently dry climate...if in a humid climate I'd go for about a week before these get really sticky on you) or place in decorative containers of choice (small celephane bags are really cute with this) and give away as gifts at the holidays.


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