Suzi's Blog

Brian’s Spiced Nut Bark

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I love spiced nuts, a staple for many of us during the holidays. Whether as a feature on the appetizer table or coming as a present in a tin box, spiced nuts can warm us on the coldest winter nights.

My recipe below will surely put some sweat on your brow. This is the first time I have been able to make spiced nuts that are worth a darn. It’s just always escaped me how to do it correctly. I end up with nuts that are burnt, or dry, or lack the flavor I crave.

This recipe is my success. How did I do it? I added. I began with an interesting recipe from Stephen Pyles’ great book Southwestern Vegetarian [more recipes to come from that book by the way].

But I had googled and found other recipes that seem interesting too: adding more and different spices, some honey, …

What should I do? I decided not to select, but to combine. The recipe below is my own amalgam of three different ideas, all merged into my gooey mess.

About the goo. I use an abundance of butter, sugar and honey before the nuts go into the oven. When they had been in the oven for twice the recommended time, the sheet pan was simply one mass of nuts in bubbling sugary broth. So I pulled the pan and put it on our outside porch on a cold afternoon. I ended up with a half-sheet of nuts encased in what can only be termed a solidified butter-sugar-honey candy coating.

Like a bark or a brittle, all I had to do was break the pieces apart. When it’s not freezing out, and I don’t have the porch asset, I will try again with less of the ingredients here that forge the bark, so that hopefully the nuts end up coming out of the oven as individuals instead of a massed army. But for now, with cold at my disposal, this is really a seasonal treat.

 

Brian’s Spiced Nut Bark

 

Yield: about 5 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups pecans
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons of paprika
  • 4 teaspoons red chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste

Preparation:

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Cover a half sheet cookie pan with aluminum foil [do not put the nuts directly on the pan unless you enjoy scrubbing, and scrubbing ..]

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the pecans and sauté for a few minutes until lightly browned. Be careful not to burn.

Add the brown sugar and cook for a few more minutes until the sugar begins to caramelize. You will see pools of brown liquid forming between mounds of the nuts as you stir.

Add the spices and the honey, then stir to mix. Then add the vinegar. You get some sizzling as you stir. Cook briefly until the vinegar liquid has most evaporated.

Spread the nuts on the prepared pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 5+ minutes. Do not cook longer than 10 minutes. You want the nuts crisp and the liquid reduced.

Transfer the cookie sheet to a cold environment. Let the whole thing solidify. Break into bits. Serve in bowls. Store the leftovers in ziplock bags.

 

Source: Inspired by Southwestern Vegetarian by Stephen Pyles

Photo Information: Canon T2i, 18-53MM Macro Lens, F/2.8, 1/60th second, ISO 3200

 

 

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Coffee-Walnut Layer Cake [Except I Used Pecans] from Retro Cakes and Cookies

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So darned good. I took one look at this cake, in Retro Cakes and Cookies by Wendy Sweetser, and I had to make it. Coffee flavor and nuts. Oh, this is an English recipe and they want walnuts. Suzen is not anti-English – she’d live in London – but she’s not a walnut fan. So I made this with pecans.

Compared to American recipes, there is a lot of coffee here. In the cake and Lord knows in that frosting. I used Italian espresso powder and just the amounts specified. I got the coffee tang, but it was not over the top. The cake is moist, filled with flavor and quite sweet.

Now, in the book, there is a picture of this cake and it is well frosted. So is my cake in my picture. And that is because I doubled the amount of frosting in the recipe below. So, you have an option. Go with frosting that is more of an icing, or go for the gold. Or the brown. Or whatever.

Jeez, just go for it.

And to serve with it? Well, what else. Espresso.

Personally, I would not eat this after 9 PM at night unless you have an exam in the morning.

That picture of the cake above is one I made by combing three exposures with the HDR software from NIK, plus their special vignette effect to tone the entire picture. I think that the picture style here matches the idea of a retro recipe.

Retro Cakes and Cookies is filled with recipes from the home kitchens of Great Britain in the 50’s and 60’s. There are things here you’ve never seen or heard of before. There are things here you need to taste.

I may have made a mistake in that last paragraph. This cake may be much older than just 50’s. Older than me, even. You’ll see in the section describing how to make the cake. You don’t cream the butter, add this, then that. Oh, no. You just put everything all at once in the bowl and mix. Everything. All at once. My grandmother would have made this cake.

I wish she had.

Coffee-Walnut Layer Cake

Yield: 1 3-layer cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • Oil or butter to grease 3 cake pans
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 ⅛ cups superfine sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoon hot water, and cooled
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts [or pecans!]

For the frosting [remember, you may want to double this]:

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water, and cooled
  • Walnut [or pecan] halves to decorate

Preparation:

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease 3 8-inch layer cake pans and line the bottom with parchment.

Put the butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, baking powder, and dissolved coffee in a large mixing bowl, and beat together with an electric hand mixer on low speed, or a wooden spoon, until smooth. Stir in the chopped walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the pans, spreading it in even layers and leveling the tops. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until risen and springy to the touch. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting:

Beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the dissolved coffee after three quarters of the sugar has been added.

Sandwich the cake layers with some of the buttercream, and spread the remainder on top. Decorate with a ring of walnut [or pecan] halves.

 

Source: Retro Cakes and Cookies by Wendy Sweetser [published by CICO Books]