Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ben's Nuts: A How-To Guide

For those of you who are not familiar, about 5 years ago I made a batch of sugar-coated roasted nuts to share at Christmas. I thought it would be fun to have a unique food gift to share with friends & family. I found a recipe that seemed simple and good, and tried it out. They were so popular I wasn't allowed to stop making them! As time went on I added a few more varieties of nuts to the mix, using two basic recipes which are simpler than you might think. I make the effort each year because it's fun to give them out, including the jokes about "Ben's Nuts" that come out every year, and never stop being funny!

With several years of nut-making experience, I figured it was a good time to document the recipe, the process, and some tips and tricks since I can't make nuts for everybody who may want them. Here's my how-to guide to Ben's Nuts:

Ben's Roasted Almonds/Pecans/Walnuts:
Yield: Approx 6 cups

4 cups Almonds, Pecans, or Walnuts (approx 1 lb)
1 egg white
1 tsp cold water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Lightly grease a roaster or cookie sheet with non-stick spray. I use large foil roaster pans. They're big and cheap, and they cool down faster than a heavy pan. I always line them with aluminum foil. The 18-inch wide heavy duty foil is worth it; it lines the entire roaster and doesn't rip when you're trying to stir the nuts, plus cleanup is easy.

2. Beat the egg white, water & vanilla, and beat until frothy but not stiff. I've tried a few egg separators, and I've found the "wire spiral" style egg separator from Pampered Chef to be the best for me.

3. Add the nuts and stir until well coated.

4. Mix the sugar, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a separate dish, and then add this dry mixture to the coated nuts.

5. Toss to coat, and spread evenly in the prepared roaster or cookie sheet.

6. Bake at 250°F for 1 hour in the preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes. The stirring prevents extra "clumping" of nuts & sugar and helps everything to cook evenly.

7. Allow nuts to cool, then store in airtight containers. Here's a photo of a finished batch of Pecans (usually the most popular nut):

Ben's Roasted Peanuts
Yield: Approx 7 cups

3 cups Unsalted Peanuts (approx 1 lb jar)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300° F. Lightly grease a roaster or cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

2. Mix peanuts, sugar, and water in a skillet or pan. I usually start heating the water until it starts to bubble, then add the peanuts, and then add the sugar and stir. The hot water and the extra agitation of stirring peanuts helps the sugar dissolve.

3. Cook on Med/High heat until liquid is gone and mixture thickens. This is where you have to be careful. Stir occasionally and keep a close watch as it thickens. Once it starts putting off less steam, and the mixture doesn't "slosh around" as much when you stir, you can take it off the heat. If left too long, the sugar starts to burn and turns a darker color. If you take it off too early, some extra time in the oven can help cook off any extra water.

4. Remove from heat and stir the brown sugar into the mixture. This will mix with the thick sugar mixture and make a nice coating on the peanuts.

5. Spread evenly in the prepared roaster or cookie sheet.

6. Bake at 300°F for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring at 15 minutes and again at the end. This will break up the thick sugar mixture before it hardens, keeping everything from sticking together too much.

7. Allow nuts to cool, then store in airtight containers.

Mass Production:
Granted, not everyone will be making as many, but when you make so many like I do you pick up a few things. The heavy duty foil comes in handy for cooling. I only have a few large foil roasters, so when a batch comes out of the oven, I can lift out the foil liner full of nuts and set it out to cool, leaving my roaster free for the next batch. Since they bake for a long time, I can start prepping the next batch about 20 minutes before the oven is done.

Once everything is done and cooled, mixing the nuts is the next challenge. In past years I would put them in a bag and attempt to toss them. However, as the amount grew the bag became very heavy, and the abrasive nature of the nuts led to rips in the plastic bag. This year I had used 6lbs of peanuts, 4lbs walnuts, 3lbs pecans, and 2lbs of almonds; 15lbs altogether. The finished batch weighed 25lbs (yes, that's 10lbs of sugar) and filled a volume of around 6 to 7 gallons. So this year I tracked down some new supplies from a restaurant supply store in the area: an 8-gallon heavy duty food-safe bucket for mixing, and an aluminum scoop for scooping and putting into containers. I was able to pour in portions of nuts into the bucket, cover it, and roll it back and forth and the mixture turned out great... much easier than years past.

The aluminum scoop made a big difference as well. I've tried scooping with bowls (which is awkward), and plastic cups/bowls (which really scratches the plastic). Having the right tools makes a big difference. We packed up the nuts in containers (bought on clearance after Christmas last year), put tags on, and now we get to enjoy giving them away! This year's batch yielded enough for 22 containers and some left over to serve to guests. Now I just have to pack away the bucket and scoop until next year.


  1. Boy is this a nice well documented post! It's like a good cook book with all the nice photos! Anyone should be able to make them from these nice directions. We are glad we get the “original” BEN'S NUTS directly FROM the artist!! This is how my peanut brittle factory got it's start too.. started with just one batch for my Dad and now it's maybe 10 batches and 20 gifts! — love, mom

  2. Hi Ben,
    I would like to look at your bucket. I have a feeling it would make a good primary fermenter. Can't wait to taste your nuts.



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