November 27, 2009

Savory and Sweet Spiced Walnuts {Powernap}

I prefer to make homemade Christmas gifts rather than buy them. Sure, I live in New York City, the shopping capital of the world, but giving my friends bags of my Savory and Sweet Spiced Walnuts, jars of Summer Apricot Jam and Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce simply feels more authentic and heartfelt then gifting something store-bought.

Call me crazy, but I find it fun to spend a few early December afternoons making Christmas gifts while my daughter naps. Then, when she wakes up, we spend evenings assembling gift bags, tying them closed with simple twine and handwritten tags. She is too young to understand the true purpose, but I can tell she already enjoys playing “Santa” and bringing her friends little bags filled with goodies for them to enjoy.

My tendency toward making gifts started at an early age. Growing up in Cooperstown all the families, including mine, spent the entire month of November cooking and baking treats to give away in December. In recent years my friend’s husband dubbed it “The Great Cooperstown Snack Exchange” which is actually the perfect name for it. While replicating this idea in New York City would be totally impossible – can you imagine every resident running around to and fro handing bags of homemade cookies to each other (!) – I still manage to do this with my group of friends. We love getting together to swap goodies and stories, and the kids seem to enjoy it, too.

Despite the fact that I am going to ruin the surprise for my actual friends, I am going to disclose the contents of my gift bags this year post by post. Typically I start thinking about what I am going to be making sometime in October. In fact, this year I jotted down my first Christmas gift bag idea on October 12th to be exact – it is dated in my journal. While mulling over ideas I like to consider goods that will keep well, can be made in large batches and don’t require expensive exotic ingredients. I prefer to make things that are unique, delicious and useful. That is, items that can be used to feed the family or for entertaining.

The first recipe I settled upon this year was my Savory & Sweet Spiced Walnuts. I love the way this recipe yields perfectly crunchy walnuts enveloped in a thin layer of sweet and salty spice. When I give these to my friends I often attach a little note that reads: -Salads -Snacks -Nut Bowls to indicate the variety of ways in which these walnuts can be enjoyed. They are incredibly versatile during the holiday season, there are any number of ways in which they can be used. I am particularly fond of sprinkling them in green salads along with crumbled blue cheese and a sharp vinaigrette.

One of the best parts about this recipe is that it is easy to make while my daughter naps, and the walnuts store very well in plastic bags until they are ready to be packed and given away. In fact, I have found that I can complete three double batches of these during my daughter’s afternoon naptime. Once they are cooled, and my daughter has woken up, I enlist her help scooping the walnuts into clear bags to be tied with twine. This task entertains her to no end and is invaluable to me. Then we place the bags in a deep bag to be stored in our pantry until it is time to make the next Christmas gift in our trio.


Savory and Sweet Spiced Walnuts

adapted from The Uncommon Gourmet by Ellen Helman


3 c. walnuts
1 egg white from an extra-large egg
2/3 c. sugar
3 T. fresh orange juice
2 t. freshly grated orange zest
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
½ t. ground cloves
½ t. Kosher Salt


1. Preheat oven to 300 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place nuts in a large glass bowl. Then add all of the ingredients into the bowl with the nuts and toss well with a wooden spoon or clean hands.

3. Spread the nuts in one even layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Make sure to turn the nuts at the 15-minute mark to make sure they brown evenly.

4. After baking cool to room temperature and place in gift bags or an airtight container. They will stay fresh in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Naptime Notes

Naptime Recipe Serving ideas

Spiced walnuts are an easy, tasty gift to give. They are also great to have around the house, I love adding them to salads or using them to top casseroles.

Naptime Stopwatch

Making these takes about 5 minutes of assembling and the required 20 minute baking time, it could be simple.

Naptime Reviews

Small children have to be careful about eating these since they could choke, but adults adore them. When I leave them around the house while entertaining they are always gobbled up quickly.