Caramelized and toasted, these crunchy candied walnuts use brown sugar and spices to deliver the perfect snack or topping.
The best candied walnuts are oven-baked. Don’t let anyone tell you different. It's worth knowing how to make them and there are many reasons to keep candied walnuts on hand. First off, buying them can be wildly expensive. Second, they’re infinitely snack-able. And, they have a knack for making salads, popcorn, crumbles and cheese plates extra special. Once you nail down a great base recipe and technique for candied walnuts you can tweak them a thousand different ways with different spices, herbs and flavors. Today we’re going to talk through all of this.
What Makes Good Candied Walnuts?
This is subjective, of course, but I like candied walnuts with a thick, brown sugar bark. So much coating it becomes hard to see the definition in the curves and swirls of the walnuts. The optimal size of the walnut pieces is up for debate. The merit of perfectly candied whole walnut halves is hard to argue with. It's my preferred size for salads, snacking and the like. But, candied chopped walnuts, in smaller pieces, make a wonderful topping for scoops of ice cream, mixing into popcorn, integrating into fruit crumble and crisp toppings or adding to granola. This round I stuck with halves.
Baking Versus Skillet?
There are two common methods for making candied walnuts - in the oven or in a non-stick skillet. You will likely have success with either method, but let me tell you why I prefer baking the walnuts. Toasting walnuts in a skillet is always awkward. They’re craggy-shaped and where nuts touch the pan they either get too dark or the rest of the walnuts stay too light. It’s more challenging to know when your sugar is hot enough to set when using a skillet. It’s basically automatic in the oven, so you don't sweat it as much. The oven envelops the walnuts in dry heat and you get much better toasting and browning. The dry heat of the oven also seems to strip the water from the egg whites while the sugar toasts resulting in crunchy snappy candied walnuts. Exactly what you want when they’ve cooled completely.
How To Make Candied Walnuts Video
Candied Walnuts: The Technique
I’m going to call out a few important techniques and tricks here. This way you won’t breeze over them once you’re deep in the recipe.
- Coating the walnuts: You are going to get in there and stir these walnuts at TWO points, for minutes at a time. Once to initially coat the walnuts with the egg whites. And again once you stir in the brown sugar mixture. Really go for it. See photo below.
- Separate the walnuts for baking: Try to separate the walnuts so they don’t bake into clumps on the baking sheets.
- Avoid under-baking: Use all your senses to know when to pull the candied walnuts from the oven. I look for a few things. Things should smell toasty when you open the oven. The sugar coating should be nice and deeply golden at the edges, where the coating touches the pan. You need to bake long enough that the sugars bake and will be snappy once cooled.
- Let the walnuts cool completely: Let the candied walnuts cool for ten minutes or so before moving them around or taking them off the pan. It will be easier to break them up, the texture is best and they won’t burn your mouth.
There are endless ways to switch things up here. How about...
- Add some zest. Avoiding the white pith, use a vegetable peeler to strip the zest off a lemon, Meyer lemon, or orange. Cut into the narrowest slivers. Stir into the sugar mixture.
- Experiment with seasonings and spice blends. My rule of thumb here is...if it is good in a cookie or pie, it will likely be good here. Think gingerbread spices, pumpkin pie spice, Bahārāt, quatre épices.
- Try an alternate nut. Pecans are a great substitute. Or a mix of walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. I also like to throw some sliced almonds (skins on) into the mix.
- Crunchy Chewy Candied Walnuts: Add some dried or freeze dried fruit. You can use chopped figs or dates here. Or stir in chopped dried banana and/or pineapple before baking.
- Rosemary Sesame Candied Walnuts: this is a version I used to make regularly. Add 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves, 1/4 cup sesame seeds and 1/3 cup chopped dates or dried figs to the brown sugar mixture.
- Less Sweet: Scale back the brown sugar to 1/2 cup.
- Spicy Candied Walnuts: Add a scant 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Keep the curry powder from the original recipe or leave it out.
- Espresso Candied Walnuts: add 2 tablespoons finely ground espresso powder to the brown sugar. Skip curry powder.
How To Serve Candied Walnuts
I've thrown out some ideas up above, but there are so many great ways to serve candied walnuts. Use them:
- Always in salads. Use them in kale salad, apple salad, even this wedge salad as a finishing touch.
- On their own or as part of a cheese platter or (these days) a butter board.
- As a topping to add crunch to blended soups.
- As a component in a yogurt or granola bar for brunch.
- In baked goods. Work them into your favorite quick breads and batters. Imagine a favorite gingerbread or brownies dotted with candied walnuts!
How to Store Candied Walnuts
You have some options here. But the first step is to let them cool absolutely completely. Then store in any air-tight container, like a mason jar, or re-usable baggy. Always reseal the container tightly after snacking. You can also freeze candied walnuts, in a tightly sealed container, for up to a few months.
The recipe makes a one pound batch, so you'll have plenty to share or just keep on hand. Here's a photo of little baggies filled with candied walnuts accented with rosemary and lots of sesame seeds. So tasty. Enjoy!
Be sure to take a glance at some of the techniques I point out up above. Mainly, mix your walnuts extra well and don't over bake. And have fun with all the variations you can dream up!
- 1 cup / 5 oz / 140 g brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 2 teaspoons favorite curry powder (optional)
- Zest of one lemon (optional)
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 pound / ~4 cups shelled walnut halves
Preheat oven with racks in the center to 300F / 150C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, salt, curry powder and lemon zest.
In a large bowl whisk the egg whites a bit, just to loosen them up. Add the walnuts to the whites and toss until they are evenly coated - it'll take a minute or so. Sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture over the nuts and toss (really well) again, another minute or so.
Split the nuts between the two prepared baking sheets in a single layer, separating them the best you can.
Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the walnuts are toasted golden and the coating is hard and dry. The walnuts and coating should be deeply golden where it touches the pan. Remove from oven.
Cool for ten minutes on the pan. Slide the parchment/nuts off the hot baking sheets onto a cool surface to cool completely.
When completely cooled, store in an air-tight container for up to a few weeks. They can also be stored in the freezer for up to a few months.
Makes 1 pound of candied walnuts.
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These would be just perfect to have a big batch on hand to give away as last minute hostess gifts this winter. Gorgeous whole foods are the best gift!
Saw this recipe just in time to bring with some chevre and WA State Cabernet for a 40th bday party tonight. Tied my party favors together with perfection. Phew. Thx again! HS: Happy to help Gretchen. Enjoy the party :)
This sounds lovely; I make a very similar recipe using cashews and it's fabulous atop grilled veggies and eaten alone as a snack. Love it, Heidi!
These would be divine in salad with blue cheese and pears. I'm making them this weekend - thanks for sharing your recipe!
I'm waiting for autumn. Those wonderful walnuts should call him here.
I wonder if you could do this minus the eggs...maybe use a melted butter-alternative product?
That looks so yummy. Do you think either beaten flaxseed or No Egg would take the place of eggs? Seems like a few of us are egg free.
HS: Let me know if any of you give this a go - if it works well I can tack on a note to the recipe.
These look absolutely fabulous! I bet they are amazing on a salad.
Last year, before Christmas, I made something similar with orange zest. I forgot the important part though, to separate them, in one single layer. The stuck together, but they were delicious anyway. I still think walnuts and orange go really well together, but adding some thyme, instead of the rosemary might make a great difference, taste wise. Thanks for the continuous inspiration!
These sound super yummy. Love them!
Oh these sound like such a perfect snack!
My heart sank when I read the 2 egg white requirement. I am allergic to eggs - especially egg whites - raw or cooked. I understand the egg whites are the binder. Is there something else I could use? HS: You could do a skillet version with sugar and spices - minus the egg. Different, but still tasty.
Love this idea for kicking up a simple snack!
How is this recipe tagged? Can I sustitute pecans or cashews and still have it go well with the Rosemary, or is there a better recipe for those nuts? Thank you! HS: Feel free to swap - either would be great.
My boyfriend loves wlanuts, so I'm going to make these for his Christmas stocking.
these do sound like the perfect travel snack. i love the greenbrier! i live not far from there - it's beautiful here.
Such a neat idea for a plane snack, I always carry my own goodies too since finding anything healthy is usually impossible in an airport, but this nuts sure beat my organic granola bars out of a box.
Great gift idea. Love toasted nuts.
Love how the combination of rosemary and fig sounds with walnuts... looks like a fantastic snack. And America's Versailles?! You make it sound sooo lovely! And beautiful pictures, to boot.
Yum. That sounds great. I having been loving snacking on nuts lately. Thank you.