You can use any nuts you prefer, but this time the star sweetener is maple syrup. I also added quatre epices.
Quatre epices is a spice used mainly in France—it literally translates as “four spices” (it’s nice to know my high school French wasn’t all for naught). The mix typically contains equal amounts of ground pepper (it can be white, black, or peppercorn blends—I used a peppercorn blend this time around), cloves, nutmeg and ginger. But there is wiggle room in the combination: some recipes and ready-made blends of quatre epices call for a greater proportion of pepper in the mix, and others use allspice in place of ginger or cinnamon in place of nutmeg.
I decided to use allspice in place of the ginger. Ginger is one of my favorite flavors, but sometimes I use it to excess (e.g., I’ve already made double ginger scones this week as well as a Ukranian Honey Spice Cake laced with plenty of ginger). And I tend to overlook allspice. It’s a great spice—it’s used in a lot in German sausages, savory Palestinian dishes, Caribbean cooking (think Jerk chicken), and also in a lot of British baked goods (e.g., my Mother makes a mean hot crossed buns recipe spiced only with allspice).
The freshness of the spices is critical for a recipe like this where they take center stage. If yours are more than a year old, it’s definitely time for a replacement. You can also do the sniff test: open the container and take a whiff. If the scent isn’t full-bodied, toss it in the bin.
It doesn’t take a bankroll to replace your spices if you know a few tricks. One of my spice secrets? Buy them in the bulk foods section of the natural/health food store. You can buy what you need, often (before they lose their potency), for a fraction of the price of bottles and jars.
Case in point, cardamom: a bottle from my local grocery store is $9.99 for 2 ounces, whereas my local natural food store sells it in bulk for 50 cents per half ounce (and it is organic and incredibly fresh and aromatic). You can store bulk spices in cleaned glass spice bottles or, even better, opaque tins (they keep out the light, preserving the spices for a longer period). I’ll discuss other herb & spice sources in future posts—a lot of great sources exist, for great quality and great prices.
Good grief, how I ramble. Back to the nuts…
So quatre epices is the spice profile (with a bit more pepper than the other spices, since I like a spicy kick; you can adjust to your preference). As mentioned above, I decided to give a touch of maple syrup a try in place of sugar, and upped the quantity, too (to complement the natural sweetness of the nuts)—I’ve made something similar in the past, and maple is especially festive. Other than that, the recipe is quite similar to the rosemary walnuts.
Brace yourself—if possible, they are even more addictive than the rosemary walnuts. I’m planning on making several more batches of both these and the rosemary walnuts for some gifts (must marshal all self-control in the process). I suppose I had better get to it, especially while baby is asleep…
- 1 and ½ tablespoons virgin coconut oil unsalted butter
- ¾ teaspoon ground pepper (use freshly ground if using black or a blend)
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups walnut or pecan halves
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- Preheat oven to 350F. Melt the oil (or butter) with the pepper, nutmeg, cloves and allspice in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and add the nuts, tossing to coat. Turn the nuts out onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 minutes. Drizzle the maple syrup over the nuts, stir to combine, and bake about 8-10 minutes longer, until the nuts turn glossy. Remove from oven and cool on pan.