Most of my creative process starts with one single hungry thought. It usually comes at the least expected time... when the belly is full and I am relaxed. Funny enough, never when I am actually physically hungry (I get impatient and cranky when I'm hungry). When mam and dad were here in October, we were discussing Mexican traditional sweets... and candied pecans, or nueces garanpiñadas, came to mind. They are an expensive enough edible gift in Mexico as pecans are never cheap, but very, very tasty and Christmassy.
I decided I needed to make some, so I bought all the ingredients to make them and had a go at it... they were fine and they certainly cured the craving... but then, sitting at the car on the way to work I thought, what if I could spike them?! What if the caramel could be made with a bit of tequila in it... and maybe some spiciness too? The idea started playing in my head and then there was nothing else in my head for three weeks. All I could think off was nueces garanpiñadas with tequila and chilli!
It took three attempts to get it right. The first time, I added the tequila and spice to the caramel at the end, so that did not work. Second attempt saw too much tequila in the caramel, so the alcohol took forever to evaporate and the caramel never really got to the right point... it just tasted bitter... Third time lucky saw these beauties emerged from the pan, and believe you me, they are AMAZING!
Caramel and humidity do not go hand by hand, so if you decide to make these in Ireland, only made them a few hours in advance. Caramel goes sticky in the eternally damp Irish weather. On the plus side, it takes only a few minutes to make, so if you are using them for edible gifts, you can make them an hour in advance and then just pack them and warn the person they must eat them quick... but seriously, that won't be a problem, once they have one, they won't be able to stop!!
I brought these for a Thanksgiving gathering with friends and they were gone quite quickly!
Start by buttering a baking sheet or roasting tray and set aside. This will be used to cool down the pecans when they're ready.
Set a heavy bottom pot on the hob and turn on the heat to medium high. It's important to use a heavy bottom pot as they not only help distribute the heat more evenly, but also keep it constant, which is paramount in caramel making. Pour the sugar, salt, chili powder, pecans and tequila into the pot and, using a wooden spoon, combine well until the sugar, salt and chili are dissolved into the water. Increase the heat to high and stir regularly.
You will gradually see the liquid starting to bubble and turning quite syrupy. Keep stirring making sure the pecans get well coated in the mixture. Do not leave this unattended as the pecans can burn quite easily. After about 5 minutes, you will notice the syrup getting thicker and darker. Most of the alcohol should have burnt now and after this point, it will all happen quickly, so keep your eyes glue to the pot and your arm stirring the pecans!
You will see less and less liquid in the pot and the pecans will start sticking to the side of the pot and/or your wooden spoon. This is a good sign, keep stirring gently until you notice the caramel starts getting sticky. This is the time to switch off the heat and get ready to quickly transfer the pecans from the pot into the buttered tray.
As soon as the pecans hit the tray they'll start cooling off and solidifying, so we need to be quite quick and start separating them. Although, if they do make little clusters, it's no big deal. Make sure you use your wooden spoon and a knife to separate them, do not touch them with your bare hands as the caramel will stick to your fingers and you'll get a very painful burn. Separate them as much as you can. Let them rest for 5 minutes before you attempt to handle them by hand. After this, they should be ok to eat.
I adore these pecans. They're sweet, salty with a tiny hint of booze and spice. Perfect for the festive season. If you intend to gift them, put them in a glass jar and adorn it with pretty ribbons and a Christmassy tag. They should be ok for a day or two provided they are airtight. These are a wonderful Christmas treat! Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!