As much as I consider myself a cake baker and dessert maker, you know what one of my most requested recipes is? Spiced nuts. Seriously, right?!?
I've copied or emailed my recipe to my mom a few times. My sister called and asked for it just before Thanksgiving. The nuts disappear quickly at parties and are always welcome as a hostess gift. And get this, my teenage brother asked for spiced pecans for his Christmas present from me... more than once even! Now that's saying something!
For my recipe, I always use pecans, our family's favorite nut, tossed in egg whites and then a combination of salt, sugar, cumin, cayenne, and paprika. Heavy on the cayenne because we're good Texans.
I don't feel boastful if I say that I've become somewhat expert in the field. I've learned that you should roast the nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Waxed paper will be a total disaster, and even a Silpat doesn't seem to work as well. Watch the timer and the baking process carefully. The nuts can go from underdone to perfect to burned in a matter of a minute. Let the pecans cool thoroughly before you touch or eat them. The spice coating needs a few moments out of the oven to get nice and set.
I tried a new recipe today from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table for Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts (p. 18). Her base recipe calls for your favorite nut - almonds, cashews, pistachios, or pecans (the latter being the least French of the lot) - or a mix of several. They're spiced with sugar, chili powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne. The spices are interchangeable, too, and she suggests getting creative by using Chinese five-spice powder, curry, cardamom, or herbs.
I thought Dorie's recipe looked very similar to my tried and true one, so I opted to spice it up (har har) by using almonds instead of pecans and some of her alternative spice suggestions. Since I had some Chinese five-spice powder in my cupboard just aching to be used, I pulled it out for this recipe. It took only a few minutes to mix the nuts with the spices and get them in the oven.
They came out beautifully. I could certainly taste the anise and fennel from the five-spice powder, which tasted like a mild black licorice and reminded me of the little after-dinner Mukhwas you see at Indian restaurants. The almonds weren't too sweet or salty. I think the only change I'd make for next time is to use a full teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of only a heavy pinch. I'm a good Texan, after all.
Be prepared to make multiple batches. You'll want to snack on some and have enough left over to share them with friends, and they're highly addictive.