Your Basic Nut Brittle

Although I am specific in my instructions below as to how far to cook the sugar, I always go just beyond that, to almost burning it. Well, the truth is, as you can imagine, that it started out as a mistake but now I do it on purpose: I love the resulting caramel-y, almost chocolately taste.

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Not Your Mother’s Peanut Brittle

I initially made toffee and brittle as a vehicle for using broken bits of pecans that I felt were too small to bag and sell. Although these two recipes are great using the nuts I have specified, they are really special – in fact sublime – when made with nuts that have already been flavored. Any of these Party Nuts! Recipes are great in brittle and toffee; the spicy ones are my favorites.

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Your Basic Nut Toffee

A candy thermometer is a must! There is no recipe in tis book that caused as much frustration and as much revision as this one: I don’t even want to describe how sizeable and how icky my failures were. In fact, until I found this recipe, a slight variation of Helen Witty’s (from The Good Stuff Cookbook), I had despaired of including a recipe for toffee. And yet… really good toffee is so good that I persisted.

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Coconut Curried Nuts

Inspired by a recipe in the cookbook Savor the Moment by the Junior League of Boca Raton, Florida, this combination is hard to resist: spicy, sweet, and crunchy. You can also make it with any of the nuts alone, rather than the combination.

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Lauren’s Vanilla Walnuts

The first time that I tested these walnuts, I made a half batch, which my family pretty much devoured. My daughter, Lauren, had earlier begged me to make chocolate chip cookies for her school’s Valentine’s Day party, but after demolishing these she switched her order to a full batch of nuts. I have no doubt that it was a first for fourth graders.

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Hot-Sweet Black and White Sesame Almonds

My friend Lizzy Shaw, who lives in California and comes to visit once a year, made these last New Year’s Eve. When she came back this year, she perfected them. Neither she nor my husband, Mark, could stop eating them.
Although I have used blanched almonds in many of these recipes, I prefer to eat them with the skins on. Some people (not me) consider the skins bitter. If you are one of these people and you like your almonds blanched, simply drop skin-on almonds into a bowl of boiling hot water and let them sit for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rub off the skins with your hands. Or you can simply buy them already blanched at the supermarket.

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Honey-Cardamom Almonds

Warm and sweet, cardamom is a member of the ginger family. It is most often tasted in Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes and smelled in perfumes. Although it is somewhat stronger in seed form, I’m a big fan of it ground. Its flavor is definitely prevalent and yet not overpowering in these slightly sticky, slightly peppery, slightly sweet almonds. In fact, it’s almost impossible to tell what the spices are. I suggest you leave your guests guessing. Serve these alongside sliced oranges.

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Rachel Travers’s Cinnamon Spiced Pecans

Rachel is a local food writer who writes frequently for the Boston Globe, and both she and her mother, Bernice, have been invaluable sources for countless extraordinary recipes. This combination is, Rachel says, “more complex than you can imagine sugar, salt, and cinnamon can be,” and she swears that it’s always the most popular item on a buffet table. I t can be easily tripled, but if you triple it, only double the egg and water. She also makes this using walnuts.

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Jenny’s Friend Leo’s Grandmother’s Pumpkin Pecans

This is my favorite recipe: one that gets handed down and handed down and, most important, tastes great and works no matter how many adjustments you make to it. When I told Jenny Alperen that I was spending all my time making spiced pecans, she said she had just tasted some that reminded her of pumpkin pie. And then she did the research. Billie Forer, from Pelham, Georgia, gave this recipe to her grandson, Leo Mascotte, who makes them every year for his big Christmas party. I ended up doubling the spices for an even richer flavor.

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Sugared Bourbon Pecans

I really wasn’t too keen on trying a recipe that is essentially boiled nuts in sugar, and yet I found myself unable to resist eating these once they had cooled. My husband, Mark, compares their taste and texture to that of glazed doughnuts, so if you’re the type who can’t stop at the first doughnut, beware.

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Indian Spiced Pecans

A member of the ginger family, cardamom is a warm, sweet-spicy aromatic that can be detected in a lot of Indian and Scandanavian cooking. If you don’t have any, simply increase the ground ginger to ¾ teaspoon. Also try this recipe with pistachio nuts.

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Curried Chili Cashews

Found in the rainforests, cashews grow at the end of the pear-shaped, astringent-tasting cashew apple. Cashew apples, which are not imported to the United States, are usually left on the tree to rot but are sometimes used for wine, vinegar, juice, and preserves. An entire, which can grow up to 40 or 50 feet tall, only produces 10 pounds of nuts per year.

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Killer Peanuts

And I do mean killer. These are not for shy and retiring types. I’m not even that crazy about peanuts, but I couldn’t stop eating these. They are perfect for a big party, accompanied by chips, salsa, and chicken wings.

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Three-Pepper Almonds

No matter how hard and how often I try, I can’t figure out how to get an even, smooth coating on these almonds. The end result is always an almond that is sweet, spicy, and a little gnarly. Serve these with a fresh or dried fruit platter featuring apples, apricots, and plums.

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Salt and Chipotle Chile Almonds

Chipotle chiles are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Their rich, sweet-smoky, almost chocolate flavor makes them a welcome additions to almost anything in my house. In fact, there are few foods that my husband doesn’t think they improve. Although they are increasingly available in adobo sauce (a dark red chile and vinegar sauce) at grocery stores with good ethnic sections, I have found the ground or crushed form only through Penzeys Spices at or (800) 741-7787.

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Hot Pepper Sesame Peanuts

Dark and nutty, toasted sesame oil is pressed from, well, you guessed it: toasted sesame seeds. It is most commonly used in Asian cooking, and once you use it in your cooking, it is hard to go back to the lighter, less fragrant, run-of-the-mill sesame oil. It does need to be used sparingly, as it has the potential to overpower almost any dish.

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BBQ Pecans

All I can say is, finger-licking good. They remind my friend Susan Benett of Buffalo wings, so whenever I bring them to her house, I always pick up a big chunk of hearty blue cheese. These pecans are not for formal dinners; they’re for feet-up-on-the-coffee-table aftenoons – just add a football game and a beer, or in Susan’s case, an episode of Iron Chef.

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Pecans au Poivre

For pepper lovers only, these nuts can definitely cause an addiction. The technique of cooking then first in a melted mixture of salt, sugar, and pepper creates a hard coating. This coating is then covered in the same mixture, but not cooked again, which results in a pecan with a sort of attractive, but weird gray dusting. Don’t grind the pepper too fine – keep it coarse.

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Soy-Glazed Walnuts

Unlike the ubiquitous tamari almond, these are glazed, not dusted, and have a great brittle-like, salty crunch. And they are versatile: They are just as delicious sprinkled over vanilla ice cream as they are incorporated in savory Asian dishes.

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Curried Garlic Peanuts

Peanuts, also known as monkeynuts or groundnuts, are not actually nuts but are really legumes (plants that have seed pods that split along both sides) that grow underground. It’s best not to include them in mixes unless you are certain that none of your guests is allergic.

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Chris and Doc’s Zaatar Almonds and Pistachios

I was looking through Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s book Big Flavors of the Hot Sun for inspiration and read a recipe too quickly, thinking that grilled Chicken Thighs with Persian-style Nut Rub was for chicken with spiced nuts. It wasn’t, but I had already gotten excited about the possibilities and ended up creating this spiced nut mix.

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Garlic Almonds and Hazelnuts

California is the only state that produces almonds commercially. Seventy percent of the world’s supply is grown by 6,000 farmers on almost half a million acres. Almonds are not actually nuts, botanically speaking, but are the seeds of stone fruits, like the pit of a peach. They are rich in protein, calcium, and riboflavin. Only a small portion of the fat in almonds is saturated, and the almond’s fat content is among the lowest of the nuts.

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Indian Almonds with Coconut

The babysitter arrives, we choose a late movie, and then begin the night at one of our favorite East India restaurants in Waltham, Massachusetts. The meals are exotic, the spices aromatic, and the rice pudding – suffused with rose water and cardamom – is sprinkled with a version of these spicy almonds. It’s a heady and rich combination that stays with me even after the babysitter goes home.

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Pesto Pine Nuts

Very expensive and delicately flavored, pine nuts are also called pignoli and pinons. They are harvested from pine nuts and can be found inside the pine cone, a fact that I came to realize only after betting that they didn’t. Most of the pine nuts Americans use are the thin, subtler Italian variety, but a stronger variety is available in Asian markets.

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Saffron Pistachios

Very subtle, with an almost delicate saffron flavor that improves over time, these nuts really need to cool completely before serving.
If you haven’t had a good pistachio lately, it’s probably because you’re eating those grown in California. Although they’re easier to open and comparatively large, their flavor isn’t as good as the smaller, more flavorful Turkish pistachios.

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Pistachios with Anise

It’s no surprise that I have become obsessed with nuts. When our family recently went out for ice cream at Toscanini’s Ice Cream, in Cambridge, I spied a new and unfamiliar flavor: pistachio anise. I tasted it (though I had a scoop of burnt sugar ice cream instead) and immediately ran home to try this combination on nuts.

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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)

Time Chart for Lightly Toasted Nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned. Set aside to cool. Cover and freeze up to 1 month.

Almonds: 12 to 15 minutes
Hazelnuts: 12 to 15 minutes
Macadamias: 12 to 15 minutes
Peanuts: 15 to 20 minutes
Pecans: 10 to 12 minutes
Pine Nuts: 10 to 12 minutes
Pistachios: 10 to 12 minutes
Walnuts: 10 to 12 minutes