Batter Licker

October 5, 2011

project wedding dessert bar: part 5 (curried cashews)

This whole baking-a-lot-by-myself-in-my-kitchen thing is starting to make me go a little nuts. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but just because it’s a lot of time spent measuring, mixing, scooping, and waiting.

So I’ve been trying to find ways to keep the redundant work at least moderately amusing, which largely seems to entail inner – and occasionally outer – dialogue, mostly baking related, mostly looking deeper into things that I’ve always found odd about one baking ingredient (why is “evaporated” milk not called regular condensed milk?), or fascinating about another (how is baking soda so uplifting?).

In other words, I’ve embraced the nuttiness. Speaking of which, spiced nuts are some of the easiest and most delicious treats to make for any affair, and multiple internet sources tell me that they hold well for weeks. They’re also ridiculously easy to store and transport, so welcome to my nut house.

I started with cashews, a nut that I can eat raw, roasted, plain, salted, whole, and in pieces. But curried? Somehow, I had never gone down that road, and as a curry lover, it was about time. Gotta jazz it up for the wedding, right?

My local Trader Joe’s only had unsalted, raw cashews in pieces – not whole. So I went with those, figuring it might not look quite as polished but would help stretch the nuts a little further come dessert / late night snack time.

The first step was tough. I had to spread them out on a pan in a single layer. It was a little tight, even on my biggest baking sheet, but the nuts made friends with each other. So all was well.

Then I popped them into the oven. This initial roasting helps ensure the cashews turn out well-toasted and crisp.

Think of this like the base tan you might build up before going on a sun-soaked vacation.

Except instead of sun, it’s curry, brown sugar and butter. Truly exotic.

Look at that mess! I barely start daydreaming of honeymoons-to-be and suddenly the counter is covered in cayenne.

Better focus. Measure out those spices.

Or don’t. Been measuring everything for weeks. Maybe it would be nice to take a break and eyeball it. Just use the tablespoon as more of a scooping device, less of a measuring tool.

A tablespoon or two here, a teaspoon there … the nuts won’t be much worse off for it, so long as no one goes crazy with the cayenne again.

Mix all the spices together. With a fork, not a whisk. Because a fork is dishwasher safe … although the whisk is too, technically speaking. But it’s a small bowl, and a fork is already in hand, so why not?

Meanwhile, cashews are simmering in a brown sugar syrup whose sweetness will nicely contrast the spices.

Once the liquid is just about completely evaporated (in the true sense of the word!), it’s time to take care of business.

Put those spices to work! Just dump ’em right in.

Give it a quick stir or five to coat the cashews evenly. Make sure all the nuts are fancily clad for the party.

And back to where we started … laying the cashews in a single layer on a baking sheet for a second go at a tan.

Bake ’em up until they’re golden brown. They’ll seem a little sticky, but after letting them cool a few minutes on the pan, they’ll crisp right up. Like candy. Curried candy. So delicious that I’m contemplating another grocery store run to stock up on cashews and double (triple?) down on these addictive snacks!

Curried Cashews (adapted from Serious Eats)
Makes 4 cups

4 c. raw, unsalted cashews
4 Tbsp. packed brown sugar, divided
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 c. water

Heat oven to 325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Distribute cashews in single layer on baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, salt, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring remaining 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, butter, and water to a boil. Add lightly toasted cashews, and stirring periodically, cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, add curry mix, and stir to coat evenly. Spread coated cashews back onto the parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Allow to cool completely. Store in airtight container at cool room temperature for up to a couple weeks, or for a couple months in the freezer if they last that long.

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