Do you have a holiday “thing” that you’re known for? My friend Nola makes gorgeous starched icicle ornaments for the tree and gifts them every year to friends and family. My cousin, Katrina makes hundreds of different kinds of cookies to give. My aunt was known for her potholders and handmade ornaments. And my claim to fame is spiced nuts. Every year.
Before this blog – I made the same recipe each year, but running a food/cooking website changes things — people expect something new. For this version of spiced nuts, I was inspired by a food gift that I received from my friend, Nola. A package of Mexican hot cocoa mix!
Mexican hot cocoa is different than the regular stuff — because it’s spiced with cinnamon and cayenne, giving it a lively kick and making it infinitely more interesting than those sad, powdered packages of Swiss Miss. Hmmm – spices and cocoa…
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. A blend of sugars, a few tablespoons of cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne — plus salt (you always need a little salt — otherwise they’ll taste flat). The key to good spiced nuts is using egg whites to coat the nuts – it wets them enough to get the spice mix to stick and it provides a shiny gloss. Too much egg white or too few nuts yield a goopy mess – you’re looking for Goldilocks here — just right. After they’re baked, the nuts are dry and you can grab ’em by the handful without getting sticky fingers!
Incidentally — you’ll want to eat ’em by the handful too! These are subtly sweet, with a tingly spice and a mild cocoa flavor — and they are so good! My neighbor was nibbling hand to mouth. Emily swooned and Scott grunted his approval between bites.
These spiced nuts make a great snack but they are absolutely stellar with a cocktail and they are perfect for gifting! I buy glass jars at TJ Maxx for a few dollars and fill them with these nuts. With a bow on top — this is a lovely hostess gift.
Spiced Cocoa Nuts
- 6-7 cups unsalted mixed nuts such as pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg white from an extra large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
Arrange oven racks to the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and salt. Whisk together to combine, breaking up any lumps in the brown sugar.
Add the egg white and water to a large bowl and whisk vigorously until foamy and light. Add the nuts to the egg white mixture and use a large spatula to mix the nuts until they are completely covered in egg white -- but not gloopy. Nuts should be glossy and tacky -- and there shouldn't be any liquid remaining at the bottom of the bowl -- it should all be on the nuts. If there is excess liquid, add more nuts and continue to toss until they are completely coated. Add the spice mixture to the nuts and fold the spice into the nuts until completely coated.
Divide the nuts between the two baking sheets and spread evenly into a single layer. Place one pan on the upper rack and the other on the lower rack and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the nuts and stir or flip them. Spread into a single layer and move the baking sheet that was on the top rack to the lower rack and vice versa. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Cool the nuts on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a heat proof bowl to finish cooling. They harden and crisp as they cool. Store in an airtight container.