What I Do all Day, and Emergency Spiced Maple Pecans

Maple Spiced Pecans

For someone who has posted thousands of tweets over the past couple of years, my Twitter stream has become unusually quiet over the past few weeks. So has the chatter with my Facebook friends, and even my favorite social media tool, Instagram, has often gone dark. No, I’ve not retreated to a Caribbean island for the winter, I wish, but I have essentially grounded myself. Because there is no denying the fact that the deadline for the manuscript for my second ancient grains cookbook is approaching fast.

So I’ve turned off my landline, and I keep my iPhone at arm’s length to avoid distractions. I largely talk to family, and my only contact to the outside world is in the form of dinners I occasionally host to test final versions of new recipes and to get feedback from trusted friends. Still, unlike what I thought the first time around, writing a cookbook is often a solitary experience — not an endless breakfast, lunch, and dinner party.

And in case you are wondering what I’m doing day-in and day-out, here is a little window into my world: I spent the past month or so assembling, rearranging, and rethinking the chapters of the cookbook, the essays I hope to write, and fine-tuning its overall concept. And don’t even think I’m close to ready! I also decided which of the dozens and dozens of new creations I experimented with are worth including, lining them up in folders to avoid drowning in a creative mess. All the while, I tossed out many hours of work because recipes were merely “tasty”, or “good”, or “solid.” Here I follow my gut, and the advice of the wonderful Paula Wolfert who once said many years ago “only include recipes in a cookbook that you are absolutely in love with.” What a fabulous way to put it.

Some days I spend many tedious hours entering recipes into the computer after testing and re-testing them, creating or duplicating soup after soup, and dish after dish with ancient grains. Believe me, I’m ready to go on a low-carb diet! In between I buy huge amounts of groceries, and 2 weeks ago I even went hunting for purslane before the first hard frost so my dedicated recipe tester Karen could try a new creation — too bad we didn’t find a trace of the delicious weed. And sometimes you’ll find me in my kitchen lightly tapping a jar with spicy cayenne exactly 6 times onto a piece of paper and creating a funnel to carefully let the red powder slide into a measuring spoon — yes, for this post! — and hoping that it would be close to a 1/8 teaspoon-measure so you, dear reader, can replicate it.

Some recipes come along beautifully. Other creations are stubborn: a biscotti recipe refused to live up to my standards recently. And while everyone seemed to enjoy them, a sloppy cutting job for a party did the trick. I sliced the biscotti thinner than intended and — boom — they crisped up so much nicer, and their overall mouth-feel was amazing. But don’t think that I’m done then; I still tested the recipe one more time to be sure, and had 2 people repeat it to confirm the results. That’s why writing a cookbook takes time.

It is during such intense and energy-consuming days that it helps to have an emergency supply of nourishing maple-roasted pecans at arm’s length (and unlike the iPhone I mentioned above you can actually eat them!).

Thank you all for your patience with me in the next few months. Now at least you can envision what I might be doing when you previously thought I’m off to the Bahamas. In this spirit, I wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year 2014 — just in case…!

Spiced Maple Pecans

Crips and crunchy, with just a hint of heat, these pecans pair with almost everything. You can sprinkle them onto a green leafy salad together with dried cranberries, serve them next to an assortment of cheese for dessert, or just enjoy as a nourishing snack on their own.
This is a super-easy recipe you can do last minute. It uses no butter or egg whites but I added a dusting of coarse Turbinado sugar — it adds an exquisite light crunchy coating to complement the aroma of the maple syrup.

Maple Spiced Pecans by Maria Speck

Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces raw pecan halves (about 2 1/4 cups)
3 tablespoons (60 g) maple syrup
1 tablespoon (12 g) Turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon good-quality chili powder (I use Simply Organic)
A scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, more to taste (optional)
2 pinches fine sea salt

1 Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

2 Add the pecans to a medium bowl. Drizzle with the maple syrup and sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne, and salt. Stir with a spoon until the nuts are well coated. Spread the pecans in a single layer onto the baking sheet.

3 Roast for 10 minutes. Stir, again trying to even out the sticky nuts as good as you can, and bake until the pecans look dried out on the surface and have a caramelly taste when you pick one off the baking sheet with a spoon, 12 to 13 more minutes. The nuts will still be a little soft; they will crisp as they cool. I found this the best way to tell whether delicate pecans are done. If you wait for them to darken, they will be on the edge of burned (lesson learned!).

4 Immediately slide the parchment paper with the nuts onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before storing in a tight-fitting jar. They will keep for at least 5 days but they won’t last. Guaranteed.

12 Responses to What I Do all Day, and Emergency Spiced Maple Pecans

  1. msue says:

    Just made these tonight. I doubled the amount of dry ingredients (cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne, salt, sugar), assuming that I’d make a second batch of pecans later. But, in an absentminded fog, I dumped the entire double-quantity dry spice mix into the 8 oz. of syrup coated pecans. The resulting pecans were a bit on the dark side, which likely came from the extra dry mixture, and very glossy. The pecans are as good as you said they would be! For Thanksgiving, I’m sprinkling some into a salad with oranges, apples, and cranberries.

    FYI, in the category of Waste Not Want Not, I couldn’t bear to lose any of the spicy maple slurry left behind in bowl that was used to mix everything together. I added some orange infused vinegar as well as orange infused olive oil, whisked it until emulsified, and it made a delicious salad dressing!

    Thank you for this wonderful treat!

    • Maria says:

      How wonderful of you to drop this lovely note, and I’m thrilled to hear that the pecans still turned out to your liking despite the double heaping of spices. Even better that the remains became part of a salad dressing — how creative. Happy Thanksgiving to you, and thank you for writing!

  2. Carol Sacks says:

    The recipe looks great, Maria. And, you’re working so hard — I hope you’re able to carve out some time this holiday season just for you. Take care!

    • Maria says:

      I’m sure you are working just as hard, Carol. Thank you! Let me know if you ever try the pecans — we certainly ate way too many in the process…Happy Thanksgiving you you and your family as well!

  3. Thank you for the insight. I’m merely getting ready to do an ebook, and I already know how solitary it’s going to be. Doing my own blog is lots of alone time. I refuse to answer the phone until 10 a.m. and I start at 7, so I have three good writing hours every day. I procrastinate a lot. The pecans are a good recipe. I love cayenne pepper and it loves sweet things. Happy Holidays, and good luck with the book.

    • Maria says:

      How sweet of you to write, Angela, and thank you for your thoughtful note. Good luck with your ebook. Please keep me posted, and Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  4. Jacqueline says:

    Love the idea of maple and cayenne, Maria. Pecans are good immune boosters, too. Will put these on the list!

  5. Denise says:

    I am so excited for this recipe; cannot wait to try. I am thinking they will go nicely with a holiday bourbon cocktail as well as tossed into salad. Thank You!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.

    • Maria says:

      Thank you, Denise! If it weren’t for you, there would be no recipe. Seriously. I put these on my Instagram feed last year and you asked for it. Of course, you challenged me because I had just added a bit of this and a bit of that. Oh well — five delicious batches of nuts later, here you go! I’ve tested them on my American friends to be certain that they would approve, and approve they did last week. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Caron Golden says:

    Oh, Maria, take your time! We miss you, but will savor the new book even more! Thanks for the pecan recipe. I may just make this to sprinkle over roasted sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving! You’re an inspiration, my friend!

    • Maria says:

      Caron, I love the idea of sprinkling them over sweet potatoes. I should have mentioned that! Thank you for your understanding — I’m already missing everyone but the book so needs me now without any distraction (not that I mind them!). Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, and let me know if you make the pecans!

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