The California Walnut Board graced our test kitchen with some beautiful shelled nuts. We kept the majority for recipe testing, but when our Test Kitchen Director asked if anyone would like the extras, I pounced.
I didn’t waste a second thinking about how I should use them. There are many great uses for walnuts, but one is my absolute favorite. Ever. I like to coat those suckers in caramelized sugar. The hot, molten sugar lightly toasts the nuts and then turns into a gorgeous amber-glass coating, crunchy and sweet, balanced by just a touch of bitterness.
You can eat them out of hand, on ice cream (add some chocolate sauce and even the nightly news won’t bug you), decorate a cake, dress up a salad, and garnish roasted pork or poached pears. The uses are limited only by your personal taste. I particularly love to serve them with Maytag blue cheese and a little Port. That’s living large off a little nut.
Here’s my personal recipe:
Put 3/4-cup sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a large skillet over high heat. Gently stir the sugar and water together (no splashing on the sides of the pan) just until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring! If you stir after the sugar dissolves, it will turn into a big chunky mess.
Let the sugar cook until it turns brown, about 3 minutes. The darker the sugar the more bitter it will be; light brown will be mostly sweet, medium brown will be a lovely bittersweet. Don’t cook it past medium brown or it will become too bitter.
Now, take the pan off the heat and add 2 cups of walnut halves or large pieces. Carefully (caramelized sugar is over 320 degrees Fahrenheit!) stir the walnuts with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until they are coated. Scrape the nuts out onto aluminum foil and let them cool completely. Do not use your tongue to see if they have cooled. (Trust me. It’s just not worth it.)
After they cool, break apart any nuts that are stuck together. Store in an airtight container and have fun eating and experimenting.