Look What I Made: Candied Pecans Recipe

Candied Pecans (photos by Travis Awalt)

There’s a reason why the pecan tree is the official state tree. (Mob connections, maybe?) They’re also located, conveniently enough, all over*- including a gigantic pair right behind my apartment.

Gettin' toasty...

As it happens, I like pecans. Last fall, I thought, “My god, I am so smart. Pecan trees yield pecans. I’ll forage for pecans by picking them up off of my patio!  Goodbye outrageous pecan costs, hello savings!”

Alone, they're just a bunch of stupid ingredients, but together...

Late in October when the husks started splitting open and pecans started dropping to the ground, I gathered a ton of them. “A bumper crop,” I thought, “and it shall last me nigh into the summer.” I was living off the land.** (At least as far as pecans were concerned.) Boosh.


Everybody just cool out.

The problem was – compared to normal pecans – these were small, malnourished-looking pecans.*** They were grubby little street urchin pecans. If you succeeded in cracking one open without smashing half or all of it to bits, they tasted fine, but a sorry, sad nut overall.


Lesson learned: Foraging is dumb. I bought the pecans for this recipe at the grocery store like a smart person. Easy recipe, versatile result. Blah, blah, blah… enjoy.

Candied Pecans


2 cups pecan halves
scant 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
pat of butter
tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
coarse salt


1. Toast the pecan pieces over medium low heat until dark and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Stir them around every 30 seconds or so. Nuts are delicate and they scorch easily, so you want to keep them moving. Let them cool to room temperature and place in a bowl.

2. Over medium high heat, stir together brown sugar, water, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne and butter. Stir constantly for 4-5 minutes, until the wake left by stirring leaves wispy threads (just keep stirring, it’s exactly what it sounds like).

3. Pour mixture over toasted pecans. Gently stir until pecans are well coated. Pour out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper (finally, a use for wax paper!) to cool, separating any pieces that are stuck together. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

4. Your journey may end at step three. Mine did not. After cooling down for over an hour, my pecans were still quite sticky. Five minutes in a 300 degree oven and another few minutes of cooling down fixed that.

Spinach salad with candied pecans

* Or at least they are in the older parts of DFW- a lot of the ‘burbs are a flora-free-for-all.

** And maybe more importantly, I was sticking it to slacker, freeloader squirrels.

*** Which is so strange to me, because I know if there’s one thing I think of when I think of East Dallas, it’s the nutrient rich soil.


  • ELH

    Remember how it didn’t rain at all last summer and how it was an unholy degree of hot? Guess what, that keeps plants from growing particularly well leading to things like sad pecans. They are probably better this year and not as stale as the ones you bought at the store.

  • Christine Rogers

    I loved this story and photos/captions and can’t wait to try this recipe. We have a ton of pecan trees near us and have successfully foraged in years past. Last fall was different, we also suspect due to the drought. We have higher hopes this year, especially because now the kids are old enough to be our family foragers! Thanks for this post.

  • travis awalt

    @ELH I demand to know how much the foraged pecans are paying you to make excuses on their behalf!! Sadly, this year’s crop isn’t looking much better.

  • Noonie McWhorter

    But don’t pecan trees only fruit every other year?