Sweet & Spicy Candied Walnuts

It was late — 1:30 am on a Saturday — and snow covered the ground outside our Boston apartment. I laid in bed, exhausted. We’d stayed out too late that night, drinking many beers at a local hangout. After we walked through the front door of our apartment, I’d beelined straight to our bedroom. Sean, on the other hand, went into our living room to watch some TV.

Suddenly, I heard closet doors opening and closing. The soles of Sean’s wet boots screeched on the floor. What is he doing?? I wondered.


I wandered sleepily out of our room and saw Sean decked out in his snow gear: a hat, jacket, boots, and even mittens.

“What are you doing? It’s 1:30 am.”

“Ummm.” He looked at me like a deer in headlights, moving his mouth silently before answering with the only logical statement he could think of: “I’m cold.”

He walked back into the living room in all his snow gear, sat down on the couch, and resumed watching tv.

“Are you going out?” I asked.

“No. Like I said, I’m cold.” Again with the drunk logic.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Very sure.”

I returned to bed with a confused crease across my forehead. What had he been doing?

The next morning, I pestered him. Finally, he came clean: He’d gotten hungry at 1:30 am and decided to go to the local corner store for a box of mac n’ cheese. But then I’d woken up and, for some reason, he’d been afraid to tell me that he wanted a snack. So he’d lied, then sat on the couch for an hour in his snow gear to prove a point before joining me in bed, still hungry.

For months, I refused to let him live this down. Even now, when I make yummy snack foods to store in our cupboards (like these nuts), I’m constantly asking: “Is it better or worse than easy mac?” “Is it worth a 2 am trip?” Ah, marriage.

Sweet & Spicy Candied Walnuts

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound walnuts
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Then mix the sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon in a bowl, making sure there are no lumps. Beat the egg white with water in another larger bowl until it’s frothy but not stiff. Add the walnuts to the egg mixture and stir to coat the nuts evenly. Then add the sugar mixture and toss until everything is evenly coated.

Spread the sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper (or lightly greased, if you don’t have parchment). Bake the nuts for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once they’re done, remove them from oven and separate the nuts as they cool — they’ll get stickier as they cool down. When they’re completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

Elizabeth Karmel, the original author of this recipe, says, “A mason jar full of nuts and a pretty ceramic bowl is my favorite gift. If you bring these to a party, tell the host or hostess to hide them, or they will disappear.” She’s definitely on to something. I also toss these in salads and eat them as a power snack during work.

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