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I think pecans may be my favorite nut.  Sure, cashews may be my favorite just to munch on, and pistachios are the best to eat while sitting around a campfire, but pecans can be transformed into so many wonderful goodies – pies, turtles,  brittle.  Not only are they the perfect baking nut – they are so addictive to eat raw.  My mom used to hide the bags of bulk pecans she would  buy for Christmas baking, because otherwise me, my brother and my father would eat them all before she got around to making them into treats.  But now that I live down south where pecans are omnipresent, there’s no need for pecan hiding.  And this abundance has led to many more opportunities to try different pecan recipes.  The most recent is a recipe for spicy candied pecans, and it has been an unmitigated success.

pecans

Now a caveat – sometimes I have to hide the spicy candied pecans because C loves this recipe so much.  If not hidden, the spicy pecans rarely last a few hours, let alone a day,  so I’ve become adept at making these at the last minute.  Since the recipe only takes a half an hour from start to finish this is not a hardship. In fact this recipe is by far the easiest recipe for candied pecans I’ve seen anywhere and I think it’s the tastiest.

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While I used measuring implements for this recipe,  if you’re good at eyeballing measurements you might want to try that to save on the sticky clean up.  The recipe calls for corn syrup, which whenever I cook with it, manages to get all over my entire kitchen.  You combine the corn syrup with sugar, salt, ground pepper and Tabasco sauce.  I won’t tell you how much Tabasco sauce to put in because it all depends on how spicy you like your pecans – obviously the spicier you like your nuts the more shakes of Tabasco.  I would warn you to taste the sugary mixture as you go – a few too many shakes of the Tabasco bottle and the the mixture could be fiery hot.

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After the sugary mixture is the correct spicy temperature, you mix in the pecans.  Don’t worry that the mixture won’t cover the pecans evenly, as the melting process will take care of that in the oven.  I would urge you to cover a baking dish with foil and then spray it with Pam or some other baking spray  –  it will save your sanity by making clean-up easier.  Once the pecans are in the baking pan, they go in the oven.  You stir once or twice to make sure the pecans get all the sugary mixture, but you basically let them bake for 15 minutes.

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Once that 15 minutes is up you have to work fast – use a fork to separate the pecans on another piece of foil sprayed with Pam.  If you dilly-dally you’ll get a big hunk of candied pecans.  Not the worst thing.  I suppose you could treat it like peanut brittle and chop it up – but it’s better if you have individual candied nuts.  Once cool you can store in any covered container –  except the nuts probably won’t last that long if anyone hungry is around the house.   Which is fine – this recipe is so easy you can always make more!

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Spicy Candied Pecans

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 T.  corn syrup
1 1/2 T. sugar
3/4 t.  salt
1/4 t.  (generous) freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco Sauce (to taste)
1 1/2 C. pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line with foil and spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine corn syrup and next 4 ingredients in large bowl. Stir to blend. Add pecans; stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.

Place large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 5 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to coat with melted spice mixture. Continue baking until pecans are golden and coating bubbles, about 10 minutes. Transfer to foil. Working quickly, separate nuts with fork. Cool. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Makes 1 1/2 cups

So one of my many, many vices are pistachio nuts. Give me a bag of pistachios while watching a movie or sitting around a campfire and I will demolish those nuts, without even a thought as to the fact that I will inevitably have sore fingers and broken nails. The answer to this heartache (or finger ache) is, of course, shelled pistachio nuts – which I didn’t even realize existed until this week. But beware of the shelled pistachio nut – it looks so naked and shriveled without its shell, but it truly is a dangerous thing. If you take these nuts into your home, you will discover that when you don’t have to take the time to shell them, you will unavoidably eat half your pistachios, and realize that if you eat any more that recipe for pistachio shortbread cookies you’ve been waiting weeks to try will have to be put on hold once again. Not that this happened to me, of course, I have more will power than that….

On to the pistachio shortbread cookies. Other than pistachio ice cream, I have never had a sweet treat that featured the pistachio, which seems odd given that pecans, almonds and cashews show up in just about every other dessert these days. Martha Stewart’s recipe seemed pretty easy to follow. I didn’t have sanding sugar, as her recipe suggested, so I just pulsed regular sugar in the food processor a few times, and that seemed to do the trick. I also chose to go with the circle-shaped cookie cutter – instead of Martha’s recommended fluted square – but then I like to take risks.

Now here’s where Martha failed me – in her recipe she says to bake the cookies at 350 for 18 minutes. Now I’m not a novice baker, so I realized 18 minutes was a long time for cookies, especially ones that are rolled to 1/8 inch thick. So I simply set the timer for 15 minutes and checked back then – but I’m apparently not expert enough to know that even 15 minutes was way too long. The first tray of cookies came out dark brown and crispy – basically not good. So after cursing Martha to high heaven, I put the next tray in for 9 minutes and kept checking until the edges were golden brown at 11 minutes. This tray came out perfect: tender and delicate and tasting of pistachios. So if you try this recipe – which I do recommend – remember, unless you want to get unreasonably mad at Martha Stewart, bake at 350 for 11 minutes. You, your sanity and your stomach, will thank me.

Pistachio Shortbread

Makes 48 Cookies (or 32 if you burn a tray)

Ingredients

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup fine sanding sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor, grind pistachios until fine but not powdery. Divide ground pistachios equally between sanding sugar and flour; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add vanilla and salt, and beat for 1 minute. Add yolks one at a time, and beat until evenly combined. Add flour and pistachio mixture, and mix until just combined. Remove dough, and form into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle; wrap in plastic, and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats (French nonstick baking mats) or parchment paper, and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 1/8-inch thickness. Brush dough with the egg white to moisten. Cover evenly with pistachio-sanding-sugar mixture. Lightly press mixture into dough with the rolling pin. Using a 1 1/2-inch fluted square cookie cutter, cut cookies as close as possible to avoid waste. Place on prepared baking sheets.

Bake until edges are just lightly golden, about 11 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.