Our Thanksgiving dessert was pecan pie. I hadn't baked one in several years and had been craving it lately, so I decided to make one this year. I bought a two-pound bag of pecan halves at Costco; it was much less expensive to buy them this way. But I only needed about half a pound for the pie, which meant I had a lot left over. So very, very many pecan halves. I enjoy eating them plain, and they'll be great for quick breads and even pancakes. I also wanted to try making some sort of spiced-nut recipe with some of them, both to eat on Thanksgiving and to keep in the pantry for nibbles after the holiday. I read a lot of different recipes and many of them sounded delicious, but some called for spices I don't have, or fresh herbs I wouldn't be able to use up.
I finally settled on Alton Brown's recipe; it seemed easy and didn't call for lots of ingredients, nor did it require ones I didn't already have in my spice racks. I've been an Alton fan for a long time and have enjoyed every recipe of his that I've tried, so I was eager to try his spiced pecans. They were so good! I really enjoy snacks that are both salty and sweet, like kettle corn or (God help me) Chicago mix. The pecans have this quality, in addition to slight spiciness. I thought the mix of spices was a little surprising; they contain cumin, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and orange peel, which gives them sort of a warm, earthy flavor. They were quick and easy to make; they cooked up in just a few minutes. I will definitely be making them again soon.
Spiced Pecans (from Alton Brown via Food Network)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried ground orange peel
1 pound pecan halves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Mix the salt, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon and orange peel together in a small bowl and set aside.
Place the nuts in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes until they just start to brown and smell toasted. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Add the spice mixture and stir to combine. Once combined, add both sugars and water, stirring until the mixture thickens and coats the nuts, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer the nuts to the prepared sheet pan and separate them with a fork or spatula. Allow the nuts to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container for storage. Can be stored up to 3 weeks.
For my first try with this recipe, I decided to cut all the amounts in half, using only half a pound of pecans. I wasn't sure if we would like them, so I didn't want to make too much right away. They were so good that I made another half-pound of them a few days later! I made them in a large non-stick skillet instead of a cast-iron one. My cast-iron skillet is a bit too small to hold even the half-pound of nuts I made at a time. I also used all light brown sugar because that's what I keep in the pantry. I don't think they suffered. We enjoyed them on Thanksgiving with our little appetizer spread of cheeses and crackers. We had a Stilton with cranberries and a triple-cream brie. The pecans worked really well with both cheeses, but especially the brie, I thought. The sweet-salty-spicy flavors complimented the creaminess and sort of tempered that ammonia-like aftertaste you get sometimes with brie.