Shellacked Balsamic Pecans

I had six friends over for a nut fest and swore that no one would be able to guess the flavorings of this unusual pecan, and yet my friend Toni Bowerman did just that. In fact, in a group of about 12 contenders, these were her hands-down favorite. In spite of all the sugar, these are not very sweet; rather the balsamic vinegar gives them an appealing sourness.

2 cups lightly toasted pecan halves
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper (optional)

Makes 2 cups.

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place the pecans, brown sugar, and vinegar in a large heavy-bottomed skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar melts, the pecans are well coated with the mixture, and there is no liquid at the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with the salt and chili powder, if using.

3. Transfer the pecans to the prepared sheet, separating the individual nuts. Set aside and to cool before serving.

If you’re sipping: A red wine like Merlot, Cabernet, or Port pairs well.
Not just for snacking: Swirl them into vanilla ice cream and/or with strawberries drizzled with additional balsamic vinegar.

From Party Nuts! 50 Recipes for Spicy, Sweet, Savory, and Simply Sensational Nuts That Will Be the Hit of Any Gathering (The Harvard Common Press, 2002)