candied walnuts

Candied walnuts = happy holidays

20 November 2010

Forget fish oil and flax seed – let candied walnuts be your key to a happy, healthy holiday season. I just discovered that one serving of walnuts has 50% more superpowered omega-3 fatty acids than a serving of salmon or flax seeds. Crunchy, sweet and simple to make, a mere quarter-cup of these nuggets will give you more omega-3 fatty acids than two fish oil capsules. They’re brilliant on salads, ice cream or oatmeal; alone as a snack or appetizer; bundled up pretty as a holiday gift.

I’ll get back to this in a later post, but there’s a fascinating book, The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World, by a San Francisco doctor named Daphne Miller, which looks at “cold spots” for chronic diseases – where in the world such diseases are least common – and investigates why. The cold spot for depression? Iceland. Happy spirits in freezing cold, endlessly-dark-in-the-winter-light-in-the-summer Iceland. Why? Omega-3 fatty acids. But more on that later.

Best case, a few candied walnuts can bolster your holiday mood. Worst case, they’re merely a dangerously addictive healthy snack. Can’t lose.

I have to admit I had a bout of pre-holiday malaise this week. To get into the holiday spirit, I pulled out this crocheted Christmas tree made by my friend Russ’s ingeniously crafty mom. Is it not adorable? I just love Christmas lights. She just started selling these on etsy.

Last year I was addicted to candied pecans in bulk from Costco, but they didn’t return this holiday season. Of course chinese grandmas can’t buy candied nuts in tiny overpriced packages, especially not when they’re so easy to make. Turns out the homemade walnut version is better anyway, as pecans don’t have near the omega-3 boost of walnuts. I officially apologize to walnuts for my pecan snobbery all these years.

This recipe is adapted from “Sweet and Spicy Candied Pecans”, first published in Bon Appétit. The original recipe calls for corn syrup, but I prefer to use maple syrup since none of us needs more corn syrup in our diets. This recipe is particularly wonderful because it’s foolproof. It doesn’t make perfectly glossy candied nuts – for that you need a recipe like this one from – but it also doesn’t require candy-cooking precision. With all the distractions in my house, I need forgiving recipes. This is a good one.

I’m giving you a straight-up sweet recipe as well as a mildly spicy version. You can always kick up the cayenne if you like more heat. Start by mixing a simple glaze of maple syrup, sugar and a touch of salt. Add vanilla for the sweet version or black pepper and cayenne pepper for the sweet and spicy version.


Sweet and spicy.

Add walnuts and stir to coat.

Spread onto a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil. This recipe is for a cup and a half of nuts. You can fit a double batch on a single sheet, but I cooked mine separately since I made a batch of each version. Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring once halfway.

Transfer to foil to cool. Separate nuts while still warm. Unlike some finicky candied nut recipes, these aren’t too sticky. So I guarantee you won’t end up with one big inseparable mass of nuts and rock-hard candy. But I do recommend you use hot water to soak the baking sheet.

These will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature. You can also put them in the freezer for long-term storage. But I’m guessing they won’t last too long.

Must stop munching. But all those omega-3s are making me feel brighter already.

Candied walnuts (or pecans)
Crunchy and dangerously addictive. Adapted from “Sweet and Spicy Candied Pecans,” Bon Appétit, September 1999.

Ingredients (sweet version)

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt (see notes)
  • 1 1/2 cups walnut or pecan pieces

Ingredients (sweet and spicy version)

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups walnut or pecan pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray.
  2. Combine syrup, sugar and vanilla/spices in large bowl. Stir to blend.
  3. Add nuts. Stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.
  4. Place large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 10 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to coat with melted syrup mixture. Continue baking until pecans are golden and coating bubbles, another 5-10 minutes.
  5. Transfer to foil. Separate nuts with fork while hot. Cool.
  6. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Nuts can also be stored in freezer for longer-term use.


  • For sweet version, use more or less salt depending on your taste. My taste testers were split on preference – less salt emphasizes the sweet; more salt gives a bit more complexity.
  • Spicy version is very mild – a gentle lingering tingle. Double the black and cayenne peppers if you like more heat.

Here’s the link to a printable version: Candied walnuts (or pecans) recipe for printing.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Katherine 4 December 2011 at 11:53 pm

I just made the spicy version, and they’re very yummy. Wanted to let you know that I lined my baking sheets with a piece of parchment paper, and even though my 11 y.o. was nervous about the hot sugar, it worked wonderfully. No baking sheet to wash. I purchased some in bulk on-line, and it’s been a great investment!


cg 6 December 2011 at 6:16 am

hi katherine – that’s wonderful! thanks for sharing.


Melissa 17 September 2012 at 10:42 pm

Thank you so much for this fabulous recipe. I have made the sweet nut recipe with both walnuts and almonds; it is always a hit! My family and friends adore the light sweetness and crunchy nuttiness. A great easy recipe I will use again and again!


cg 21 October 2012 at 12:25 am

hi melissa – thank you for sharing back! so glad you enjoy the recipe. now that it’s fall i need to ramp up my candied nut making too…mmmm.


Elaine 13 December 2013 at 9:04 am

Thanks so much for this recipe. I made these last weekend and they are fabulous. I added a touch less sugar and they are so addictive. I will be making another batch this weekend. I might even double it. These are a healthy snack that no one should feel bad about eating a big, big handful.


cg 14 December 2013 at 12:01 am

hi elaine – i love these so much too! i am glad you are enjoying them – they are great year round but somehow especially nice this time of year. thanks so much for taking the time to share back.


Brooke 15 November 2014 at 10:23 am

It is snowing outside and my house smells delicious thanks to these baking in the oven. I added cinnamon to the sweet recipe. Thanks for another delicious recipe.


Lynda 19 March 2015 at 12:57 pm

These are great on a salad for year round use, too. If they last long enough to make it to the salad!!!


cg 25 March 2015 at 12:08 pm

hi lynda – so true, i always want them for salad, but rarely do they make it! =)


Brooke Rakow 19 December 2017 at 5:00 pm

I’m pulling out this old favorite recipe of yours to make as a simple gift for neighbors this Christmas instead of cookies! Thanks! xoxo


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