I love a good bar snack when I’m out enjoying a cocktail with friends. Bar snacks are there to put a little something in your stomach and tickle your thirst for another drink. For me, the best ones are crunchy and perfectly walk the line between sweet and salty. These Whiskey Spiced Walnuts are a great bar snack that you can put out when entertaining at home, or package up for a holiday hostess gift. They’re sweet, salty, crunchy and pair perfectly with a wide variety of drinks – even nonalcoholic ones.
The candied nuts start with walnuts, sugar and a splash of whisky in a large saucepan. The alcohol burns off while the mixture cooks, but the flavor of the whiskey remains. This means that the mixture will have a nice base with a hint of vanilla (toasted oak) and baking spices. I tried to highlight these further by adding a touch of vanilla and cinnamon to the mixture, too. The nuts and sugar are cooked until all of the sugar has crystallized and everything is sandy. This step in the process helps the sugar to really adhere to the nuts. As the mixture continues to cook, the sugar melts and forms a more even coating on the walnuts, ensuring that there is flavor in every nook and cranny.
You can use bourbon, rye or Tennessee whiskey in these – or whatever else you have on hand. Bourbon tends to be a little sweeter and rye a little spicier, but any whiskey will bring its own unique flavor to the mix.
The walnuts I used were untoasted and came in a mix that included halves and large pieces. While the large walnut halves are prettier to look at, I’m fine with a variety of sizes in a snack mix like this one. Don’t use chopped walnuts, as they’ll be a lot harder to eat. You can start with toasted walnuts, but the nuts will take on a nice toastiness as they cook, so starting with untoasted nuts is just fine here. Once they’re made, the nuts should be allowed to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container. They’ll be good for at least a week – if they last that long – if they’re kept in that container.
Whiskey Spiced Walnuts
7 oz walnut halves or large pieces (approx 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp (1 1/2 oz) bourbon or rye whisky
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
In a large saucepan, combine walnuts, sugar and whiskey. Cook over medium high heat, stirring regularly, until the sugar begins to bubble. When it begins to bubble, stir the mixture more quickly, using a spatula, until the sugar crystallizes completely. The nuts and sugar should look very, very sandy and dry.
Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring constantly with a spatula to keep the nuts from burning on the bottom of the pan, and the sugar will re-melt and turn golden brown color. Within 4-5 minutes, the nuts should be coated in caramel (it may still look slightly sandy, thanks to the irregular shape of the nuts). Add in salt and spices and quickly stir to distribute evenly.
Turn nuts out onto a parchment-lined or silpat-lined surface and spread them into a single layer with your spatula. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Makes about 1 1/2 – 2 cups of nuts