Derek loves Sally Sampson’s recipe for hot candied walnuts, but they call for a ton of sugar, and they’re kind of messy to make. So when I saw this recipe for bar nuts in the Union Square cookbook, I was intrigued. They call for only 2 tsp. of sugar per 1 1/4 pounds of nuts, and you just toast the nuts plain, then mix with the seasonings afterwards. It looked much simpler, plus the nuts won the the New York Press award for best bar nuts in New York. With that kind of pedigree, they had to be good!
- 1 1/4 pounds unsalted, assorted nuts (my favorites are pecans, walnuts, cashews, and almonds)
- 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary (pack it tight to get around 10-11g)
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne (I like a bit more, around 2/3 tsp.)
- 2 tsp. dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp. kosher salt (I use fleur de sel, around 10-11g)
- 1 Tbsp. butter, melted (14g, or maybe a bit more, up to 18g?)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until they become light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch them carefully! Some types of nuts cook much faster than others. (See note below.)
- Right before the nuts are done, melt the butter in a large bowl or pot. When the nuts are done, add the rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt to the melted butter. Remove the nuts from the oven and immediately add the still-hot toasted nuts to the spiced butter. Toss thoroughly and serve warm.
Yields 5 (or 6?) cups of nuts.
In the cookbooks they recommend 1/4 pound each peeled peanuts, cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, and whole unpeeled almonds, but that adds up to 1 3/4 pounds nuts not 1 1/4. I suspect that the 1 1/4 pound number is correct, not the 1 3/4 pound total.
The first time I tried this recipe I made a smaller version: 3/4 pound (12 oz.) nuts instead of 1 1/4 – 1 3/4 pounds. I meant to half all the other ingredients, but I accidentally used all the butter! My tablespoon of rosemary weighed 5g, and I used 1 tsp. of kosher salt, 1 1/3 tsp. of brown sugar, and 1/4 tsp. cayenne. It made a total of 360g.
Both Derek and I liked the nuts a lot. They taste quite salty and a bit sweet, even though they have very little sugar. The rosemary flavor is dominant. Derek said “pretty perfect”. I liked all the nuts except the peanuts, which I thought were a bit too strong compared to the other flavors. I think next time I’d use half as many peanuts as the other kinds of nuts. I didn’t have any hazelnuts, but I’ll try them next time. I loved the cashews and walnuts the best, but the brazil nuts and almonds were also good.
I’m guessing that you could easily make this recipe vegan by using oil instead of butter. The nuts went so fast that next time I’d make the whole recipe. They seem to store fine, at least for several days, which is as long as they lasted. They’re not that spicy. Next time I might increase the cayenne amount just a tad. Anything to keep them from getting eaten up so quickly!
Update Jan 2013:
I made this recipe again using 1/4 ounce each of walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, and cashews, and 2 oz. each of sunflower seeds and pepitas. I used the correct 1 Tbsp. of butter this time, 2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. cayenne. For the sugar I used turbinado. My 2 Tbsp. of rosemary weighed 11g. But this time the nuts didn’t taste like much. I don’t know if it was that I used less butter, or perhaps the seeds (which have much more surface area) soaked up all the flavor and didn’t leave much for the nuts. I added another Tbsp. of rosemary (16g total) and a tsp. of american-style soft brown sugar. But maybe you can’t add spice afterwards, because the additional seasoning didn’t seem to change the taste much. Also, my almonds this time didn’t crisp up enough, and they have a kind of mealy texture. Next time I need to remember to taste them before adding the seasoning, to make sure they’ve roasted enough. Or perhaps I should just start the almonds and peanuts before the other nuts, as the walnuts and cashews seem to roast much more quickly. I didn’t like the hazelnuts that much. The pecans last time were much better, but pecans are quite expensive here and I’m all out of Texas pecans.
Update Feb 2013:
This time I didn’t have any rosemary so I substituted in sweet spices instead. I used 18oz nuts, 15g butter, 2 tsp. fleur del sel (11g), 2 tsp. brown sugar (9g), 1 tsp. cayenne, a bit over 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ginger, 1/8 tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. garam masala, and a shake or two of smoked paprika. Also a few more pinches of salt and about 1/2 Tbs. of lime juice. Made about 1 pound 3 ounces? They were quite spicy. A bit much for me but probably good so that we don’t eat too much. Derek said the sweet spices were a nice change from the rosemary, which he was a bit tired of.
Update March 2013:
This time I used 8.35g fresh rosemary (about 5 tsp.?), 2 tsp. brown sugar, .4 tsp. cayenne, 1.4 tsp. sea salt (not coarse but not super fine either), 21g butter (about 1.5 Tbs. butter), and 20 oz nuts (4 ounces each walnuts, pecans, almonds, and cashews, 3 oz hazelnuts and 1 oz pepitas). The recipe made somewhere between 5 and 6 cups of nuts, which weighed just over 20 ounces (590g). I thought the balance of spices and salt and nuts was excellent, and the seasoning stuck without the nuts being greasy. There could have been slightly more rosemary perhaps, and maybe a bit more cayenne as well.
A serving (1 oz) of these nuts provides 178 calories (78% fat, 13% carbs, and 9% protein). They’re a good source of magnesium (15% of the RDA) and vitamin E (11% of the RDA). They also provide about 0.5 g of omega 3’s, assuming the roasting in the oven doesn’t destroy them?
A FAQ with a few tips:
Which nuts to use?
The crevices in walnuts and pecans catch the spiced butter really well, so they’re usually my favorites, followed by cashews, followed by almonds. Hazelnuts and brazil nuts are also fine. I find that peanuts are much stronger tasting and tend to dominate, so use them sparingly if at all.
The one time I added pumpkin and sunflower seeds the recipe didn’t work at all, I think because 4 oz. of small seeds has way more surface area than 4 oz. of nuts. If you do add seeds you may have to increase the seasoning amount substantially.
If you use hazelnuts or peanuts with their paper shells still on, a lot of the shells come off when you toast the nuts. It’s not a big problem, but I generally prefer to use peeled peanuts and hazelnuts. Unpeeled almonds are fine.
Warning: Brazil nuts are extremely high in selenium, which is an important nutrient. But it is possible to ingest too much selenium. Thus, if you use brazil nuts in this recipe, use only a small number, enough so that you don’t consume more than one or two Brazil nuts daily [see whfoods.org].
Don’t burn your nuts!
The original recipe said to roast the nuts for 10 minutes at 350, but at that temperature they go from nicely toasted to burnt very quickly, so I often roast mine at 325 for slightly longer, maybe 12 minutes? But I leave the fan on in the oven, which perhaps affects the cooking time as well.
Walnuts and pecans roast much more quickly than almonds or hazelnuts, with cashews somewhere in between. So either add the walnuts and pecans slightly later than the other nuts or if you’re oven doesn’t heat evenly (like mine) put the more delicate nuts in the cooler parts of the oven.
Seasoning won’t stick?
I’ve made this recipe with slight tweaks many times now, and sometimes the seasoning seems to stick better than others. I’ve read various tips online (on this Chowhound thread and the comments on this Food Network page), and one key seems to be making sure that both the nuts and seasoning mixture are still hot when you mix them together. So make sure the seasoning is ready as soon as the nuts come out of the oven, so that the nuts don’t start cooling off why you finish making the spiced butter.
I like to melt the butter in the microwave in a large pyrex bowl right before the nuts are done, then immediately throw in the other, pre-measured ingredients, give it a quick stir, then add the very hot nuts and stir again.
Another tip I’ve read for making sure the seasoning sticks is to mix a tiny bit of water in with the spices and butter, but I haven’t tried it. I do seem to have better luck with slightly more butter than the recipe calls for.
What if I don’t have any fresh rosemary?
If you don’t have fresh rosemary, then I would suggest substituting some other fresh herb or dry spices rather than using dry rosemary.