This past weekend I had a wonderful houseguest. I took a few days off work and had a mini vacation myself. I was so excited about my friend coming that I was actually eager to do all the prep work - the laundry, the cleaning, the emails that couldn't wait until the end of my hiatus. I was so on top of it all that I had a little extra time to make a few goodies to really spoil my friend.
My friend and I both have a monstrous sweet tooth. He happens to be the only person I know who can come close to consuming the amount of sugar I can without feeling sick, getting a headache, or showing the hyperactivity of a three-year-old. What can I say - I've got a high tolerance.
So something sweet was really the only option. However, my oven hasn't been working lately. I can't manage to get the pilot light lit. Instead of possibly blowing up my entire building, I came up with two sweet alternatives: No-Bake Cookies and Candied Cashews.
The Candied Cashews started as an idea that combined the gooey sweet caramel of a New Orleans Praline with the poppable loveability of Praline Pecans that have a more sugary coating. This past July, my family and I met on holiday in New Orleans and had many pralines, beignets, crawfish, chickory coffees, and bread puddings. I bought a small cookbook while there, The Little New Orleans Cookbook by Given McKee, that features a simple family recipe for Creamy Pralines. I used this recipe as a guide, using only half of all the main ingredients except the nuts.
1 cup white sugar
1 cup milk (regular or buttermilk, I used regular)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups raw cashew nuts
- Put first three ingredients in a large, heavy pan and bring to a boil stirring constantly. (Have the remaining ingredients ready to throw in.)
- Slightly lower the heat when the mixture rises. The mixture will bubble and turn progressively darker until it turns a dark golden brown.
- Cook until the mixture begins to thicken (about 7 minutes). Test for soft ball stage by dripping a few droplets into a cup of cold water. When it forms a soft ball, add the remaining three ingredients.
- Stir and heat mixture, allowing it to return to the soft ball stage.
- Remove from heat and let mixture sit for a few minutes to thicken. Be careful not to let it harden in the pan.
- Stir mixture until thick enough to drop onto wax paper or other nonstick or greased surface.
- Let cool and store in an airtight container.
I used cashews because it's my friend's favorite nut, but anything would be equally divine. Most of them dropped nicely without clumping. The few large clumps were easily broken up after cooling.
These cashews had a lovely, golden brown color that hinted at their buttery caramel-goodness. Thankfully they were not too sugary; the caramel was soft without being sticky. I think I ate more of these than my friend did, which means I definitely need to make them again.
Beware: Being overly eager to sample the caramel mixture and see how it was doing during the soft ball stage, I decided to sample one of the droplets. Mistake! One I paid for with a burn mark on my lower lip (which is still there!).