I’m going to be straightforward – this is a recipe for something called cracknuts. They are a fiery, addictive, hellish, fantastic mix of sweet, spicy, salty nuts that my roommate Molly famously makes and the rest of us famously eat despite our best efforts. They are given their name for this very lack of control that they induce on people. I finally asked Molly for the recipe and made them for my office christmas potluck and will be making them much more often now.
This recipe is pretty simple – mixed nuts, thrown together with sugar, water, salt, and insane quantities of fennel seeds (yes, fennel, go with it) and chile peppers. It may sound crazy, but the combination is insane in the best way. Molly first had them at a bed & breakfast and asked the owner for the recipe. And now they continue to sweep the nation!
These delicious nuts are not for the faint of heart – there is a truly outrageous amount of red pepper in there, and like all spicy foods they are vaguely masochistic. When making this recipe, it really feels like you put as much fennel and chile as you do nuts. Just go with it, though. It works. Especially when the fennel gets all stuck up in the walnuts (these are the moments us cooks savor). One of my new year’s resolutions (yes, here is where I tie it all together) is actually to embrace JFDI (just effing do it) – whether “it” is paying a parking ticket or going to grad school. So in cooking and in life, I will embrace being a little bold. And trust me, these are some bold nuts.
Cracknuts (Fennel Chile Nut Mix)
4 cups of mixed nuts – almonds, walnuts, and cashews
3/4 cups brown sugar
4tsp crushed red pepper
8tsp fennel seed
Mix the sugar, salt, red pepper, and fennel in a bowl. Add to the nuts, along with the water, and combine with your hands. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil (don’t try skipping the foil – because you are essentially making caramel around the nuts, this stuff sticks to a pan like you wouldn’t believe). Bake in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. WATCH THESE NUTS LIKE A HAWK. They will burn if left unattended, faster than you will expect.
Let cool before storing away, breaking up into smaller clusters if needed. Serve, or leave out on the counter and let your roommates nibble away.