These nuts are the perfect standby nibble. Pile onto a cheese board and pair with a salty cheese such as stilton or chèvre, or pop a bowl of these on the counter when hungry people begin to hover. Better still, these make a fabulous edible gift.
I have provided instructions for making your own Christmas spice blend, but I’ve also made this with Garam Masala spice blend (which you can buy, pre-mixed) and it’s just as delicious, if a bit more savoury. The choice is yours.
4 cups mixed nuts (I like walnut halves, pecan halves, macadamias and cashews)
1.5 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
Christmas spice blend (see below) or Garam Masala spice blend
4 tsp flaked sea salt (such as Maldon)
Christmas spice blend:
3/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
For the Christmas spice blend, mix the spices together and then tip into a dry frying pan. Toast for a couple of minutes to wake up the flavours, then pour into a bowl and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 350F / 175C / 160C Fan. Shake out the nuts onto a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 7 – 8 minutes to toast the nuts, then remove and let cool.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Set aside.
To a cold saute pan, add the sugar and water and use a fork to combine so there are no dry patches of sugar. Turn on the heat to medium-high and let the sugar come up to a bubble, swirling occasionally. (At this stage, don’t stir the pan, just swirl.) Keep cooking the sugar until it becomes a clear, golden brown, swirling often.
Be careful – do not touch the sugar – boiling sugar is extremely hot!
It may start to crystalize on the side, but don’t worry about it – it will dissolve as the caramel cooks. Even if it’s looking like all is lost and you’ve got a crystallised mess on your hands, have faith. It is Christmas, after all.
Keep swirling, and once the caramel is a lovely golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Quickly pour in the toasted nuts and half the salt, stirring to combine. Working quickly, tip out the nuts onto the parchment-lined baking tray and use two forks to separate and spread out the nuts slightly. Immediately sprinkle over the remaining salt and a generous sprinkling (about a teaspoon) of your chosen spice mix.
Allow to cool completely on the parchment, then break into chunks and transfer to an airtight container, where they will – in theory – keep for about a week.
Tip: Wash out your saute pan with lots of hot water, straightaway. You’ll thank me later.