Kitchn Love Letters

The Sweet and Spicy Bar Nuts I Make Every Single Christmas

updated Dec 22, 2020
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Credit: Sheela Prakash

My family (pardon the pun) is nuts for nuts. When I was growing up, my aunts and uncles would gift my dad giant canisters of Planters peanuts and cashews for Christmas, and my dad would gift them the same. We’d squirrel the canisters away, snacking on them all winter long as we played board games and sat on the floor with jigsaw puzzles during snowy New England nights.

For this reason, nuts — roasted, salted, spiced, or a combination — taste of the holiday season to me. I can’t make it through December without having some within reach. While I still have a weakness for honey-roasted peanuts, it’s the bar nuts from famed New York City restaurant Union Square Cafe that stole my heart ever since I first grabbed a handful from their bar so many years ago. They’re sweet, spicy, and savory — best paired with a festive drink and a roaring fireplace. They also couldn’t be easier to make.

Get the recipe: Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts

Festive Spiced Nuts in Just 10 Minutes

As soon as I tasted these spiced nuts at Union Square Cafe, I was determined to make them at home. Luckily, it’s a popular recipe beloved my many, so it’s readily available online. The instructions are simple: Roast an assortment of nuts until toasty and warm, then toss them in a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, chopped rosemary leaves, and salt. Whether they’re served warm or at room temperature, these spiced nuts are perfect. The sugar and cayenne play off of each other, and so with every hit of heat a bit of sweetness comes and mellows things out. Add in earthy rosemary and a sprinkle of salt and it becomes far too easy to eat the whole batch in one sitting.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

If You Make These Spiced Nuts, a Few Tips

While the recipe is straightforward, it’s worth keeping these tips in mind.

  1. Mix and match the nuts. It doesn’t matter which nuts you choose for this recipe. Pick up a bag of pre-mixed nuts or scavenge your pantry to create your own combination.
  2. Weigh the nuts, if you have a scale. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen reviewed these nuts a few years ago and found some mistakes with the version I’ve turned to for years. I recently made her adaptation, but, truthfully, I still prefer the recipe I’ve always made. However, she is correct about the error in volume versus weight. The recipes calls for 2 1/4 cups mixed nuts, or 18 ounces. Unfortunately, if you break out a kitchen scale you’ll see 18 ounces of nuts doesn’t equal 2 1/4 cups — it’s more like 3 2/3 cups. So, ideally, weigh your nuts. Otherwise, measure out about 3 2/3 cups.
  3. Use Maldon flaky sea salt, if you have it. One other point Deb and I agree on is the salt in the recipe. Use 2 teaspoons of Maldon flaky sea salt, if you can, which is more delicate in flavor. If you only have kosher salt, use half that amount; otherwise the nuts will be too salty.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.