As someone with a chronic, intense sweet tooth– someone who always hopes for the corner piece of a sheet cake (more frosting!), who thrives on sugary breakfast cereal, who eats the bottom of the cupcake first so that all subsequent bites are mostly buttercream– I’m incredibly confused to find that lately, all I want is spicy food. I have been craving hot wings for weeks… I’ve been adding Sriracha to already-spicy Thai food… I’ve been dousing pizza with cracked pepper… you get the idea.
So last week, when I invited friends over for a lazy evening filled with drinks and Korean takeout, I didn’t even consider making dessert. I didn’t even bother to stash a pint of ice cream in the freezer, just in case. But neither did I slather the takeout with extra hot sauce. I struck somewhere in the middle with sweet and spicy bar nuts, coated with caramelized sugar and a mix of cayenne pepper and garam masala.
Garam masala is one of my new favorite things; it’s a blend of cumin, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, and other spices (recipes vary, and I’m not totally sure what all is in the blend in my pantry), and it walks the line between savory and sweet. My favorite quick lunch is thin-sliced chicken breast marinated in buttermilk and coated in garam masala, then pan-fried. It’s delicious stirred into ketchup as a dipping sauce for french fries. And, because the cinnamon and cardamom lend themselves so well to sweet recipes, I’m contemplating a garam masala cookie recipe… but that is a story for another day.
The inspiration for these super-addictive, eat-’em-by-the-fistful peanuts was Smitten Kitchen’s brittled peanuts recipe. For seasoning, SK’s recipe calls for a mixture of sugar and cayenne pepper, and while I’m sure that’s perfectly adequate, I just figured that an extra dose of spice couldn’t hurt anyone. That, I assume, was my newly discovered pepper belly talking. And my pepper belly was right!
To make these, the most delicious bar nuts you’ve ever had, all you do is cook a mixture of sugar, water, and a bit of butter on the stovetop until it turns golden brown (congratulations, you’ve just made caramel!), then stir in the peanuts and spices, and keep on stirring until you have a pot of sticky, clumpy, nutty spicy goodness. The only catch is that, as the sugar continues to cook while you stir it with the peanuts, the mixture gets more and more stiff, and more difficult to stir. There also comes a point, about midway through, when the caramel crystallizes; fortunately, Smitten Kitchen had warned me about this in advance and admonished me to just keep stirring. It works– the grainy sugar slowly but surely turns back into syrupy caramel. And your arm muscles get an excellent workout in the process.
Once the nuts are thoroughly caramelized, turn them out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and let them cool. When you can handle them, break up any large clumps and transfer them into a bowl or two, then bring some friends over and watch them disappear.
While this didn’t necessarily satisfy my crazy craving for spicy food– I could still go for a big plate of buffalo wings right about now– it certainly filled an empty spot in my stomach, and earned a spot in my regular snack rotation, for sure.
And I’ll be back in a couple weeks with those crazy garam masala cookies.
Caramel Peanuts with Garam Masala
adapted from the Smitten Kitchen
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
2 cups unsalted peanuts (raw or roasted), skins removed
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray it lightly with cooking spray. In a small prep bowl, combine baking soda, salt, and spices; set aside.
In a heavy medium-sized saucepan, heat the sugar, butter, and water over medium-high heat; cook until it just starts to turn golden brown, 7-10 minutes. Add the peanuts and stir to coat; continue stirring for about five minutes, until sugar crystallizes and then melts back into caramel. Remove the pot from heat, and quickly stir in the spice mixture.
Pour the peanuts onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a single layer. Allow to cool completely before serving.