Go nuts this holiday season: Sweet Vanilla Pecans and Spicy Garlic Nuts

“Go nuts, MaryJane? I’m already going nuts trying to get everything done!”

Does this sound familiar to you during this busy time of year? Don’t worry, I hear ya! Between talking on the King Arthur baker’s hotline, teaching cookie decorating at our Baking Education Center, and blogging, work is pretty full right now.

Add to that my daughter Shannon’s birthday 6 days before Christmas (brilliant planning on my part… not), and finishing up gift giving for the holidays, sure, things can definitely feel a little nuts along the way. BUT, nuts can also be your saving grace for sweet, spicy, delicious last-minute gifts this year. Curious yet? Read on…

I’ve always known about oranges and nuts being traditional fillers for stockings, but I never really pondered why until I started to write this particular blog. I knew that oranges were rather rare and hard to come by in Victorian times, and that adding one to a stocking was a sign of love and generosity. But what about nuts? Time to hit the all-knowing worldwide Web.

I came across lots of personal blogs with folks reminiscing about their own experiences with pecans, walnuts, and Brazil nuts on Christmas morning. As you can guess, some were happy memories, and some were more along the lines of “Awww, nuts! I wanted candy.”

Many mentioned family traditions, but there wasn’t much on worldwide customs until I found this site: Christmas Stocking Customs. Lo and behold, there was the answer I was seeking.

As a former teacher of young children, I love the idea that stocking gifts were meant to stimulate a child’s five senses. The fruit for taste, the nuts for hearing (as they were cracked open), plus others for sight, smell, and touch. What a great way to wish a child a world of experiences in the coming year!

So, some of you say I don’t have kids, or hang stockings, or even celebrate Christmas as a holiday. That’s fine, and I’m not here to tell you that you have to do any of those things.

I’m here to give you a delicious recipe or two to share with family, friends, co-workers, teachers, postal workers, hairdressers, dog groomers, the kids who shovels the walk, your mechanics, favorite waitresses, and fellow bloggers, and the list goes on. ’Tis the season for giving – whatever your chosen occasion.

To start, let’s be sweet and make Sweet Vanilla Pecans:


Start with some lovely pecan halves or pieces. Halves are a little easier to handle and eat, but use what you can find. Place them in a large bowl with room enough to stir and toss.

Oh, and while we are discussing the types of nuts, repeat after me “IF I DON’T LIKE PECANS, I CAN USE OTHER NUTS. ” Honest, you don’t need my permission to use different kinds of nuts. Use the ones YOU like!


Mmm, cinnamon spice and everything nice. I love our apple pie spice for the rich cinnamon-y flavor it give these nuts. As you can see, it has hints of nutmeg and allspice too. It’s a great way to get that homemade apple pie flavor without making a whole pie.

If you prefer, you can use just cinnamon or your own blend of sweet baking spices. Sorry, I can’t tell ya the proportions of our blend, it’s a secret, and then I’d haveta rub ya out. (Sorry, too many Bogart movies).


Place the spice in a small bowl with the confectioners’ sugar and blend well. I like to add a pinch of salt here as well, but it is optional.


Blend the melted butter into the sugar/spice mixture. It will be a bit thick at first, but keep stirring and it will melt together nicely, and smell OH so good.


In the larger bowl, pour the butter/sugar/spice mixture over the pecans and stir to coat well. You know you want to, so go ahead and taste one. Being the cook pays off, doesn’t it?


Spread the coated nuts out in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. This will make stirring and clean up much easier. If you don’t have parchment, use foil to line the baking sheet.


Bake the nuts at 250°F  for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with half of the vanilla powder. Stir well and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.

** Vanilla powder gives you a mellow vanilla flavor with no alcohol. If you do not chose to use it, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract to the butter/spice/sugar mixture before coating the nuts**


After the second 10 minutes, remove from the oven again and sprinkle with the rest of the vanilla powder. The nuts will have darkened, and the liquid will be thickened. Stir again and check to see how much liquid is left in the pan.


If you still have significant amounts of liquid left, return the nuts to the oven and bake until most of the liquid is gone. A small amount is okay, it will absorb and solidify as the nuts cool, making for a nice crunch.


There, these nuts are done. You can see there is very little liquid left and everything is bubbly and browned. Remove from the oven and cool. We liked these nuts served warm with a sprinkling of salt. Store airtight when completely cooled.

Well, I’ve had enough of being nice, let’s get naughty with Spicy Garlic Nuts:

The process for baking the nuts is the same as described above, just the mixing of ingredients is slightly different.


This recipe uses 4 cups of nuts total. I used pecans and walnuts this time around.


Blend together the Garlic Oil ( or plain vegetable oil, but garlic oil is sooo much better) and Worcestershire sauce, and pour evenly over the nuts. Toss to coat.


Blend together the dry spices and sprinkle over the nuts.


Toss to coat evenly. Taste and adjust spices to your liking.

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet as described for the sweet version, and bake at 250°F for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Sprinkle with additional salt if desired and serve. Store any leftovers airtight at room temperature.


These fancy tulip papers make great disposable serving dishes. Halley, our web director, was enchanted with the spicy bundle I left on her desk on testing day. Halley has such an elfin grin, it’s fun to make her smile.


So, whether you are naughty or nice, sweet or a bit on the spicy side, these nuts will keep you sane and satisfied during the busy season, and all through the year.

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. Cindy Pauldine

    How long do you think these will last, if stored in zip-loc bags?
    Several weeks if stored in a cool place. Longer if you want to freeze or refrigerate. Joan @ KAF

  2. Danielle

    It’s like you read my mind! I was just thinking about finding a savory nut recipe because I wanted to make a holiday gift for a diabetic friend. Thanks for all the great recipes!
    At your service Danielle 🙂 ~ MaryJane

  3. Marianna

    Both flavors sound addictive and delicious. They are the perfect addition to put next to the fruit and cheese platter at the Christmas party. Thanks AGAIN for great all the great ideas!

  4. Jess

    I’d love to make these for a friend who cannot have dairy for health (heart) reasons. Would slightly salted oil make an acceptable substitute for the butter?
    Yes make this using the oil-this is nice for you to make this for your friend. Joan D@bakershotline

  5. Tom

    Adding some cayenne pepper to the garlic nuts perks them up! We’ve also made a recipe similar to the vanilla nuts but substituting lavender for the vanilla flavoring – very different!
    Wow! Lavendar sounds very grown up. For the cayenne, you can certainly spice up the spicy nuts to your liking. I tend to be a little mild on the spicing but sounds like you all are hot tickets! ~ MaryJane

  6. Royce Robertson

    Thanks for the recipe. Leaving this minute to buy nuts so I can makethem. I love EVERYTHING about King Arthur Co., the merchandise that is available for purchase, the wonderful blogs and the fabulous recipes. I think it would be awesome to work there. Wishing you and the entire staff a Merry Christmas and Happy Baking. Thanks for being there and taking care of us novice bakers.
    Royce Robertson

    And happy holidays to you, too, Royce. Always nice to see your name here – PJH

  7. Carolyn

    You think you have it bad at the holidays? Try two birthdays and Christmas in less than a week!!! I has the (mis)fortune to marry someone with a birthday the day before mine. His is the 19th like your daughter, mine the 20th. After I was married I always wound up with his leftover b-cake (but with new candles). These days, I would rather have the spiced nuts. But this year to celebrate #75 I just might make the cake my mother used to make for me – an 8-layer torte with chocolate frosting. But that’s a lot of cake for one person and my hips sure don’t need it even if my taste buds do.
    Happy Holidays to all!!
    Tis the season to celebrate in your house! Happy Birthdays! Molly @ KAF
    Hi Carolyn, Shannon’s Grampa John’s birthday was the 20th, until he passed several years ago. They shared the same birthstone, and she still wears the set he gave her every year. It makes for a busy season, but lots of joy. Have a wonderful day and a Happy Holiday season! ~ MaryJane

  8. Melissa in NC

    I enjoy this blog and love it when it shows up in my reader.

    I want to make these for my goodie boxes for my kids’ teachers, the recipe sounds wonderful! However, I have a question. What is the measurement for vanilla extract here:

    ** Vanilla powder gives you a mellow vanilla flavor with no alcohol. If you do not chose to use it, add 1/2 vanilla extract to the butter/spice/sugar mixture before coating the nuts**

    Is it 1/2 teaspoon?
    Have a great weekend and don’t stress too much!
    You are correct, use 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Molly @ KAF

  9. Gin

    Quote: ** Vanilla powder gives you a mellow vanilla flavor with no alcohol. If you do not chose to use it, add 1/2 vanilla extract to the butter/spice/sugar mixture before coating the nuts**

    If you don’t have vanilla powder, I’m assuming that’s “1/2 teaspoon” but checking to make sure.
    You are correct, that’s a 1/2 teaspoon. Molly @ KAF


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