Sugar-and-Spiced Candied Nuts

Two days from Christmas, I can’t imagine any of you are still looking for gift ideas. You’re probably nothing like me, who not only hasn’t finished wrapping presents but also hasn’t finished buying them — not that there are many to buy because, whenever possible, I like to homemake Christmas gifts.

A close up image of candied nuts in a jar against a white background.

This year has been as simple as free cards online, whipping up a batch of my favorite sweet and salty granola and baking some cookies, after which I mainly just had these sugar-and-spiced nuts to bake — two batches, because they’re that good, and, like I said, I know you don’t need gift ideas at this point, but if you ever do, trust me when I say these things make great ones.

You know, in the last post, I told you how sick I’ve been, how I spent the full weekend before Christmas at home, in bed, trying to distract myself from my stuffy nose, and that’s true. It’s also true that Monday night, I spent a half hour holding ice against my face while trying to end my first-ever bloody nose.

What a week. I’ve been getting kind of sad about it all, thinking how un-Christmasy this end of December has been feeling, how little of the festive and jolly I’ve been experiencing (or how little I’ve been enjoying experiencing). But then I think about homemade gifts.

After I’d mixed and baked the blend of walnuts and pecans with cayenne pepper and cinnamon and raw sugar and egg whites that go into this recipe, pulling their trays out of the oven and popping handfuls of the hot, fragrant candied nuts in my mouth, I cooled them and scooped them into jars tied with ribbons, labeled with gift cards.

A top view image of yummy candied nuts in a jar.

In those moments, life was not about my lack of energy or boring weekend or new obsession with vitamins, tissues and long Sunday naps; it was about someone else, about giving to someone else, and that was good. And in a similar way, this slowed-down Christmas week, wherein I have not checked off my complete list of Christmas shopping or gotten to do some of the fun things I had wanted to do, I have been able to stop and think more than I normally would.

It’s funny, I’ve been comparing my slow and quiet Christmas week with other ones — first with those of flashy holiday movies (where someone falls in love! or meets Santa! or saves an entire town from something bad!), and then with more quiet, simple ones, like the first Christmas, the one in Bethlehem, where a young and tired Jewish couple had no place to go, right when the wife was about to give birth, landing them in the place where the animals were kept, alone.

While I’ve sniffled and drank more liquids, I’ve thought about how hard it is to be tired, to be weak — like they were; how a little family like mine can seem especially small at Christmas, when everyone is traveling and gathering and planning parties — but then Mary and Joseph were just two, about to be three, in a stable, nothing more; and how, while my family and I will open presents on Friday from the comfort of our American living room, that family rested among sheep and donkeys and straw, yet with an amazement much greater than I can imagine.

A couple of mason jars filled with delicious candied nuts.

These things — the giving of gifts, the giving of the greatest gift, the sacrifice, the love — are what Christmas is, what it really is, and I’m glad to be remembering that.

Sugar-and-Spiced Candied Nuts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe is almost exactly Deb’s, with the one main change being the sugars switched to raw. I liked them this way very much.

1 cup raw sugar
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 pound walnuts
1/2 pound pecan halves
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugar, salt, cayenne and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add walnuts, and stir to coat evenly.

Sprinkle these nuts with the sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool.

When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn,, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens,, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World,, Babble,, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.

21 thoughts on “Sugar-and-Spiced Candied Nuts

  1. Wow, this is my favorite post ever. I”ve been feeling so un-jolly and festive too because of being sick, but you did a perfect job at putting Christmas into perspective. Mary and Joseph were just two tired and weak souls who survived a hard, cold night and created this holiday that has become so chaotic from its original beginnings. How wonderful to hear someone talk about the true meaning of Christmas, the “Christ in Christmas.” THANK YOU. And baking has certainly helped me get through this festive season being stuck at home too. Hence, the reason you received a tin with four different treats inside.

  2. here are some tissues for your sniffles, my sweet. have a lovely, lovely holiday and sending much love your way for the new year! xo.

  3. I love candied nuts. It’s sweet but not too sweet and just delish! And I’m 99% done with my shopping, wrapping, that’s another story.

  4. I’ve done way more baking this year than previous seasons, but for me it’s been an attempt to push away the painful year behind me and look ahead to a new set of 12 months to undertake. I struggle with the season of Christmas because so few people see it for what it truly is, and that makes me sad. Our church is always so raw and honest about the proper telling of the Christmas story; it isn’t the fluff and serenity usually depicted. It’s a teenage girl giving birth in a rank and dirty barn to a baby with the burden of the entire world placed on it’s tiny shoulders. It’s heaven’s love reaching down to save the world. We’ve come so far away from the truth of the holiday.

    Thank you for sharing it in such an open way, and so eloquently. May you have a healthy and happy Christmas.

  5. you’re so right. the homemade gifts mean the most (to both the giver and the recipient). and for the part about illness, YES. i have cfids, chronic fatigue syndrome. my life changed when i got it. ugh. i know all about not being able to do what you want, and having drastically reduced expectations. but you know what? even with all the pain and tiredness and neurological issues, i would not change my life’s trail bc i love my family and am happy to be together. life is good!! happy holidays.hope you’re feeling MUCH better…

  6. Ha, thanks, Randy! I hope so, too. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    Aw, thanks, Alicia. I loved your box of goodies so much, btw – which cookies had almond or anise in them? LOVED that flavor!

    Thanks, Giao! Maybe 2010 will be the year we sit down in Chicago somehwere!

    Jacqui, Merry Christmas to you, too!

    Anne, Do it! So delicious.

    Jessica, Way to go! Wrapping’s always fun – turn on some music or TV to make it go faster. Merry Christmas!

    Kate, I just saw a video that said something to the effect of: “God taking the initiative to know us, coming down and taking on human flesh: that’s Christmas.” And it is. Thanks for your very thought-provoking comment.

    JessieV, What a great outlook you have! I’m sorry to hear about your cfids, but I love that it’s made you and your loved ones closer. There is a deep beauty in difficult things, I think.

  7. Hey friend! I’ve had an un-Christmas, too. We got called to Wisconsin two weeks ago to say final good-byes to Steve’s mom. Everything else went by the wayside. And now here we are back home, waiting for the inevitable with her up there — and I’ve found that having just three kinds of cookies made, not the usual ten or whatever, is simply not that big of a deal. I’m going to enjoy the quiet with my two best buddies tonight — and I’ll be thinking of you four tomorrow morning! Love ya!

  8. I cannot believe you’ve NEVER had a bloody nose!!! For someone who gets like 20 a year, I am sooo jealous!
    I hope you feel better than you were for tomorrow!


  9. Kelley, Oh, friend. I am so sorry to hear about Steve’s mom, but I love the perspective it’s given you (that sounds not right, but I think you know what I mean). Thanks for sharing that here. Love you too.

    Niki, I know, right? It was full-on chaos the other night, and you have my sincere empathy. Merry Christmas to you, too! Hope it’s been lovely.

  10. It was almond paste that you tasted. It’s in this recipe we have for dough that can be used for like 20+ different kinds of cookies. It’s our fave.

  11. I am taking my sweet time catching up on all the posts I missed while I was out of town, but I’m glad I got to this one. What a beautiful way to talk about the season. I hope you’re feeling better!

  12. Xmas may be past but it’s never too late for a tasty homemade granola recipe! Granola is one of the happiest things about my mornings, so I look forward to trying this. I hope that you are feeling fully recovered in time to enjoy the new year!

  13. Elizabeth, Can I just tell you the truth? I am ADDICTED to homemade granola. Like, I should start stocking piling oats because there is no end in sight. Love it, love it.

  14. Hey Patricia, I really couldn’t tell you for sure, since this is the only way I’ve made the recipe. Since the egg white primarily is there to get things moist, I’d go with honey rather than applesauce, maybe removing some sugar. Please see our post on baking without breaking any eggs for more substitute suggestions! Good luck.

  15. I enjoy making these for the holidays and giving them as gifts. The addition of cayenne will make an interesting alteration to my recipe this year. Sounds good!

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