Six years ago, spices were not something that would have really been a big deal to me–spices come from the grocery store in their little plastic jars to add to pasta sauce, some cinnamon and vanilla extract for baking, maybe some dried mustard for baked beans, that’s about it. Then I smelled a real spice shop, and I haven’t looked back. The flavors are the difference between a black and white picture and a technicolor 3D video with surround sound, they just aren’t even in the same league. And the variety–my cupboards are a victim of the variety. Sweet, savory, multi-purpose, single ingredients, blends, mixes from every corner of the world.
As fresh herbs start to wind down at the markets (I say that after I bought fresh parsley, sage, and oregano this weekend, bundled them up, and have been huffing them like a kid who just discovered rubber cement), I find myself making more and more frequent stops at my favorite spice shop. I can smell it from a block away and walking in its doors, especially this time of year, is like every delicious fall dish, from mulled wine and long-simmered pasta sauce to pumpkin pie and baked apples, just begging “Make me! Make me!” Who am I to deny the spices?
One of the fun (and oh-so-dangerous for my limited cupboard space) things about living so close to a shop like this, combined with my inclination to play around in the kitchen pretty much constantly, is that I end up with a ton of spices that I need to find tasty homes for in the form of baked goods, bacon, stews, dips, sauces, or in this case, candied walnuts.
The recipe itself is pretty standard–sugar, nuts. It’s the process (blanching then baking) and most importantly the spices that make these special. Baharat is a Middle Eastern spice blend that smells like the best of fall to me–cinnamon, cloves, cardamom–with a little hidden surprise in the form of black pepper, chile, and paprika just for a little heat.
Candied Spiced Walnuts
Modified from Laura Werlin’s All American Cheese and Wine Book. Delicious on their own as a snack, these nuts are also perfect topping fall salads (I’ll share my favorite with pickled cranberries in my next post) or as part of a cheese plate. If you can’t find the spice blend, you can use 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne instead.
2 cups walnuts, whole pieces and halves
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2-3/4 teaspoon baharat
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, salt, and spice.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add walnuts, blanching for 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove and drain walnuts, and add to the sugar mixture. Toss to coat (the heat will begin to melt the sugar) then spread over the parchment lined pan.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring about halfway through, and watching carefully to keep the sugar from burning. When the nuts are caramelized, remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool. They are best eaten the day they’re made but will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.