Spiced Maple Vanilla Walnuts

By the time this is posted, I will be in San Diego to visit friends and get some studying done (seriously!). In preparation for this trip I realized I didn’t want to arrive empty-handed, but my small graduate school budget didn’t allow for very extravagant gifts. So I planned some food-related treats to make and, the night before my flight, I put together some baked goods, treats, and an econometrics problem set. Two of those were much more delicious than the other… Two of those also made a lot more sense than the other… 😉

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of food blogs. The danger with food blogs is that one glorious one links to another, which contain another 20,482 recipes I want to try, half of them linked to other blogs …

To be honest, reading these food blogs is pretty intimidating! I begin to have doubts that I really am doing a “good job” with Don the Apron, and start believing I need hours a day to experiment with recipes, a DSLR to take pictures with (instead of my only-focuses-every-other-time I turn it on Pentax Optio), the timing to only cook when there is plenty of daylight outside, to take lovely, sundrenched shots, have significant expertise in photo post-processing, a fantastic wit and writing style, etc. etc. etc…

But I’ve realized that really, I can’t be one of those great blogs, and really, I can just admire and enjoy the Smitten Kitchens, Rasa Malaysias, and goodness knows what else, and let me (and DtA) be what it needs to be for me — a creative outlet and a way to capture some of the things I love for myself and my loved ones.

One blog I always read is David Leibowitz‘s. He is a world-renowned pastry chef who documents his life in Paris, a city that I visited once (but lay in bed sick the three days I was there). His blog is filled with beautiful photographs, wonderful recipes, and a dry humor that often leaves me laughing. It is a wonderful introduction to a city that many of my friends love, foods I’ve always been curious about, and a place I hope to properly visit someday.

I made these walnuts for my a good friend, Rick, who prefers to minimize the use of refined sugars in his food. Granted, maple syrup still is a refined sugar, albeit slightly less processed than, say, granulated white. Everything in moderation.

When thinking about what things I could prepare for him, visions of a natural-sugar candied nut danced in my mind. I searched the internet for an appropriate recipe, but didn’t find anything I really liked, until I saw David Leibowitz’s recipe for candied peanuts.

But really, my recipe is nothing like his. I use different nuts and different sugars. I just really liked his photos and the funny things he says, as well as the thorough explanation of the technique. 🙂

These walnuts are delicious, simple to make, and gift well in a repurposed glass jar. Try them as a snack, or mixed into a salad.

Coralie’s treat recipe coming shortly!

Spiced Maple Vanilla Walnuts
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups walnut halves and pieces
  • 3/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon Mexican vanilla
  • A sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg, powdered ginger, coarse sea salt, to taste

Directions

  • Take a large pan (jelly roll pan) and set on a counter top out of the way.
  • In a heavy bottomed pan, saute walnuts and maple syrup over medium heat, constantly turning the walnuts with a spatula to evenly coat all nuts with syrup.
  • Continually scrape pan with rubber spatula in order to mix the syrup. I watched this like a hawk as I have an electric stove, notorious for being difficult to moderate the temperature.
  • After about several minutes, all your nuts should be glossy with maple syrup. Add the vanilla and continue to stir and scrape the mixture. The syrup should begin to thicken, and then to bubble.
  • Keep mixing vigorously, remembering to constantly scrape the bottom of the pan so the sugars don’t burn, tilting the pan to move the syrup and moving the pan off the heat for a minute if it seems to be too hot.
  • As you keep mixing, the maple syrup will begin to crystalize on the nuts, transforming from shiny to sandy. Continue to mix until all the maple syrup is crystalized, then let walnuts continue to toast while you mix. Be very, very careful, because you don’t want to burn your sugar! You’ll essentially be playing a game of chicken — the more you toast, the better they’ll taste, but there’s a point where it will burn and all go downhill…
  • Once you have reached the desired level of crystalization, remove from the heat, sprinkle spices and salt on the nuts, and mix.
  • Spread onto the large pan, and cool. Once cool, break apart nuts that may have stuck together, and store in an airtight container.
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