First step is to toast your nuts of choice. I used a mixture of almonds, pecans, and cashews. Don't let them toast too long; you want to bring out their flavor, and "burnt" is not the flavor you're going for.
Caramel Bits. Those things below that look like chick peas? They're soft, chewy bites of caramelly-goodness. I found these in the baking aisle, near the chocolate chips, and I couldn't resist!
The following recipe is based on the one I found on the blog Alice and the Mock Turtle, with a few alterations. This recipe is also easily doubled.
Vanilla & Pumpkin Pie Spiced Nuts
Makes 2 cups.
2 c. raw, untoasted nuts (any kind you like)
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. water
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. dried fruit or Caramel Bits (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Carefully stir the nuts and check for any burning; if the nuts still look raw, toast for up to 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and set aside once toasted.
HOW KIDS CAN HELP: measure nuts, spread them on the baking sheets
2. In a large pot, combine the sugar, water, vanilla, and spices and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the nuts and lower to medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar mixture crystallizes and looks dry*, then immediately remove from heat. This can take anywhere from 7 - 15 minutes, depending on the heat of your stove.
HOW KIDS CAN HELP: at a table or counter (NOT the stove!) kids can measure and pour the sugar, water, vanilla, and spices into the pot; stir to combine everything
3. Spread the nuts onto parchment paper** to cool. Once cooled, transfer to a storage container and add any dried fruit or candy bits as desired. Enjoy!
HOW KIDS CAN HELP: they can spread the parchment paper on the counter for you; give them 4 plastic cups to place on each corner of the parchment paper so it doesn't curl up; once cool, kids can scoop the nuts into a storage container; kids can measure and pour the dried fruit and/or candy bits, if using
* NOTE: The original recipe stated that you should stir until the nuts are coated in a sticky syrup, and the water has evaporated - which would take 10-15 minutes or more. I ended up throwing away the first batch because the syrup crystallized after 7 minutes, and I kept stirring waiting for the "sticky syrup" to cover the nuts and thinking it hadn't cooked long enough. The whole thing ended up burning. The second batch was perfect - - I realized that as soon as the nuts looked dry and coated in "sugar" rather than "syrup" that they were done. Both of my batches crystallized at 7 minutes; they didn't take very long at all. As soon as the nuts look like the ones in the third picture above, remove them from the heat and pour them out; they're done.
**ANOTHER NOTE: The original recipe stated that the nuts should be spread out on wax paper to cool. I did this and ended up with wax all over my baking sheets. The nuts were so hot that they melted the wax; as the nuts cooled, the wax hardened on my baking sheets. I ended up using a ton of baking soda and lemon juice to get it all off. If you don't have parchment paper, please don't use wax paper. I haven't tried it, but I would think some aluminum foil lightly spritzed with cooking spray would be a good alternative.
The only down-side about these treats is cleaning the pot you used to coat the nuts. Soak it in water for at least an hour before even attempting to clean it. If regular dish detergent isn't working, try sprinkling some baking soda directly into the pot and pouring lemon juice on your sponge. As you scrub, it will fizz and go to work on the sticky mess. If all that doesn't work, my go-to is Shaklee Scour-Off Heavy Duty Paste. Truly a miracle worker!
If you're craving spiced nuts, you must make these! In less than thirty minutes, you'll have a protein-packed, sugary, vanilla-y, spicy, delicious treat. Enjoy. As always, thanks for reading.