Sunday, December 12, 2010

Peking Nuts

“It starts out like Peking duck, then transitions into some sort of holiday cookie.” That’s what my friend said when he tasted my Chinese five spice candied nuts.

I should probably just stop here—leave you with the duck-cookie reference and dive right in to the recipe. I mean, you kind of have to try them after a statement like that, right?

But it took an emotional village to make these spiced nuts, and since it’s the holidays and a nice time to reflect on how lucky we are, I’ll tell you a bit more.

I was feeling discouraged about blogging for the holidays. Not only had every other blogger already posted the best cookie recipe ever or the most thoughtful and unique gift guide, but it’s also been so freaking dark that I never seem to be in my home when a photo might come out even remotely attractive. I had no ideas, and it was dark.

But I can be dramatic, and in reality, I was spending a lot of time with some pretty perfect friends and family, complaining about how my mind had gone dark instead of cooking. And after a rant similar to the paragraph above, a dear friend said, “Why don’t you make some interesting spiced nuts?”

I really couldn’t argue.

So I started hunting down the whole spices I would need to make Chinese five spice candied nuts. Fennel seeds and cloves from my spice drawer, check. Cinnamon stick and Sichuan peppercorns from the grocery store down the street, check. Then, of course, I didn't think I was going to find star anise (not to be confused with regular old anise seed), when I found it at my favorite food source of all, my mom’s house.

They’re really fantastic. Great with a sharp, soft cheese as a snack, or after dinner with dark chocolate. Or anytime you walk by the kitchen.

Chinese Five Spice Candied Nuts
1 t Sichuan pepper
½ t cloves
1 T fennel seeds
3 star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
4 T unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 # raw nuts (I used walnuts, pepitas and almonds)
2 t kosher salt

  • Put the pepper, cloves and fennel in a large dry frying pan and cook over medium heat until they begin to smell, about 3 minutes
  • Pour the spices into a mortar and pestle and let them cool.  
  • Grate 2 t from the cinnamon stick.  
  • Add the star anise to the mortar and pestle until all the pieces have broken down. Stir in the cinnamon.  
  • Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat. Add the nuts and sugar and stir to coat. Add 2 T of the Five Spice mixture. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the sugar is melted and it begins to smoke.  
  • Remove from the heat, salt, and continue stirring for a minute or two until it begins to harden.  
  • Pour the nuts onto a sheet of parchment to cool.


Kelly said...

i love the holidays. could listen to christmas music all day long! but cookie recipes do get tiresome. spiced nuts are PERFECT! nice idea! the tease of the pink tree is too much! i might have to come snoop in person! ;-) xo

Pleasant Company said...

Thanks, Kelly! I am certainly dreaming of a pink Christmas. Come see the tree anytime!