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French in a Flash: Quatre Épices Candied Nuts

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

In France, it would be perfectly natural to serve a big bowl of walnuts with a little apéritif before dinner. But at times, gilding the lily is half the fun. This recipe is a cross between candied nuts from street carts you get piping hot in wintertime, and a brittle. Quatre épices is a traditional French blend of spices made from cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper (ginger can be traded for the cinnamon, but I think the cinnamon works best for this recipe). The blend has the spice of the pepper and the smoky sweet heat of gingerbread spices that are warming and almost exotic. Combined with the sweetness of the crisp burnt sugar that encases the walnuts and salty, crunchy almonds like amber, it's the perfect match.

France is a nut-eating country. Almonds hang from the twigs of Provence, and the walnuts from Grenoble are famous and have an AOC. designation, ranking them amongst the consecrated wines and cheeses of France. When we're in Grenoble, there's always a basket of them in the kitchen, and we spend every afternoon sitting on the terrace in the heat, cracking shells, plucking the husks away from the woodsy, almost sweet, crunchy yet yielding flesh. Growing up, there was always an enormous jar of whole, shell-on walnuts in the pantry, with the nutcracker thrown in to expedite the shucking. Maman was never more than a few rooms away from those and her sacred almonds.

I will warn you ahead of time that these nuts are dangerously addictive. Not only do they lack the daunting outer shell of the walnuts in Maman's pantry, but they're also covered in sweet and spicy sugar. You may choose to serve them as an apéro, or as a counterpoint on a post-dinner cheese plate. I personally choose them for late night squirreling.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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