make-ahead gifts: brûléed pecans

make-ahead gifts: brûléed pecans |

Crème brûlée is all about that crispy, sugary crust right?

Sure, the silken custard underneath is good too. But thin shards of golden, caramelized sugar that shatters upon the very first whack of a spoon is what draws you in for the win!

(We’d probably brûlée a lasagne if we could).

So, how about this instead?

Take that sugary, brittly-goodness and encase it around warm, cinnamon-spiced pecans.

It smells like Christmas.

And it’s one of the easiest holiday gifts you can make-ahead.

make-ahead gifts: brûléed pecans |

Spiced nuts are nothing new, in fact, there are plenty of great recipes you can peruse out there.

However, in order to achieve that classic brûléed crust this recipe focuses on a specific formula.

Sounds technical, but don’t worry- it’s easy.

Remember those cookies dough logs I made recently?

They are made with egg yolks only.

Not wanting to waste the egg whites, I froze them (individually) in little containers until ready to use. Even if you don’t cook with egg whites that often, and think saving them is useless, they are essential for making this recipe.

Egg whites are the secret ingredient.

When whisked properly with the right amount of air and sugar, the egg whites will puff up and create a crispy crust (sans the mini blow torch).

Here’s the magic formula:


  • 1 large egg white: 3 cups pecan halves: 1/2 cup white sugar

Technique (in this order)

  • Whisk egg white by hand until bubbly and frothy (no less than 20 seconds)
  • Add nuts.
  • Add sugar.

Got it?

Do not stray.

Here’s why:

  • If you dump all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix it around, it won’t work. The egg whites must be aerated first. Plus, something magical happens when the sugar goes in last. Otherwise no puffy crust for you!
  • If you ignore the ratio and add more than 3 cups of nuts to one only egg white, your puffy crust will be average (like Grade B).
  • If you use brown sugar instead of white sugar, you’ll have pecans with a tan. It’s not the end of the world, but if you want them like the pictures…

make-ahead gifts: brûléed pecans |


It’s not hard. I promise.

And if you don’t eat all of these irresistable pecans yourself, package them in pretty treat bags with decorative ribbon.

Give as gifts to teachers, friends, stocking stuffers- or bring them to your next holiday party for the host.

They’re sweet, crispy, with just a touch a cinnamon and vanilla. Try them as an accompaniment to a nice cheese plate…

Make up to 1 week in advance.

Kitchen Notes:

  • Egg whites can be frozen in small containers or ice cube trays, up to 3 months. 
  • To prevent sticking, it’s best to use a silicon mat instead of parchment paper to line your baking sheets. If this is not an option, generously coat the parchment paper with butter for easy removal. Otherwise, be prepared to pry the nuts from the pan…
  • For more cinnamon flavor, add up to an additional 1/2 teaspoon. These pecans are cinnamon ‘kissed.’
  • Pecans usually go on sale around the holidays. I bought a huge bag at Costco.
  • You can find treat bags and decorative supplies at Michael’s or any craft store. This recipe make about 3 bags.
  • If you want to double this recipe for more gifts, prepare each batch of nuts separately and use 2 rimmed baking sheets.

make-ahead gifts: brûléed pecans
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 3 cups
  • 3 cups pecan halves
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ cup white sugar (I use Florida Crystals)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon*
Kitchen Notes:
This recipe yields about 3 cups of pecans (for treat bags, use 1 heaped cup/bag = 3 gifts).
To double this recipe, prepare each batch of nuts separately (not in 1 giant bowl) and use 2 rimmed baking sheets.
*For extra cinnamon flavor, add up to an additional ½ teaspoon. These pecans are cinnamon 'kissed.'
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicon mat. *See note below.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg white, vanilla, and salt until bubbly and frothy, about 20-25 seconds. Quick tip- aerating the egg whites will help to achieve a puffed sugar crust around the nuts.
  3. Add the pecans to the egg white mixture. Toss well to coat.
  4. In a separate small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Pour over the wet pecans. Toss 2-3 times to coat.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, spread the nuts evenly onto your baking sheet. Make sure the nuts are not piled on top of each other.
  6. Bake for about 15- 20 minutes. You'll know the pecans are ready when the crust is dry, puffed and light golden in color. The nuts will continue to harden once removed from the oven. Do not be tempted to over bake- they will become too dark.
  7. Remove the baking tray from the oven and cool for about 10-15 minutes.
  8. Once completely cool, transfer to an airtight container or package in treat bags.
*To prevent sticking, it's best to use a silicon mat instead of parchment paper to line your baking sheets. If this is not an option, generously coat the parchment paper with butter for easy removal. Otherwise, be prepared to pry the nuts from the pan...



  1. says

    Very often I throw out my egg whites because I just haven’t known how to store them. I didn’t know they could be frozen??? Its like before coming to Holland I didn’t know you could freeze bread! My family back home is saying… what??? horrors! I guess because we don’t freeze anything in India. And old habits die hard. I love this idea of the nuts. I feel like I live on nuts. They are my ideal snack. Now if only I could get some sugar on them and have them crunchy… hello! you nutty nuts… here I come! (can you tell I got excited with your post?)

    • Emilie says

      I used to throw out egg whites too. At the time, the only thing I knew how to make with the leftovers were meringues, which ironically, I don’t really like! I heard about egg whites with nuts so I started experimenting with that a few years ago. It’s a fantastic addition. And yes- you can freeze them too! Super easy. I freeze everything. And ps- you are making me laugh…

  2. says

    I was wondering what you were going to make with those egg white. You are a genius my friend. :) These bruleed pecans look incredible.

    PS: I made your shortbread cookies yesterday. I’ll be baking them in a couple of hours. Cheers!

    • Emilie says

      Surprise! Saving egg whites are totally worth it for this. I think you would like these…

      You did?! Yay! You have to let me know how they came out :) xoxo

    • Emilie says

      These pecans are perfect for cocktails and cheese plates. And aren;t Costco pecans the best? They’re huge compared to the ones in the stores, although I’m not surprised! Makes a big difference though when the nuts are the star of the dish. Enjoy :) xoxo

  3. says

    Perfect, perfect, perfect Emilie! LOL ‘no puffy crust for you!’ LOL! Okay… Such a fantastic food gift. I know I would love to give and/or receive these bruleed pecans. I can taste the crunch now! Thank you for this my dear! xo

    • Emilie says

      Thank you! Ha- but it’s true! I made them so many times (experimenting with different methods) and really, it’s all about the technique and ratio if you want to achieve that puffy, golden crust. These would make a fantastic gift or at least something to have on hand when unexpected guests pop by :) xoxo

    • Emilie says

      Thank you so much, Laura! I have some of these in a little container in the kitchen, and every time I just want a little bite of ‘something’ I find myself digging through them like a hangry squirrel… xoxo

  4. says

    They are absolutely good looking and bruleed pecans, I’ll take the whole sack. How very creative Emilie.
    So many good tips. Honestly haven’t made nuts with egg whites before, I’m thinking it should be amazingly crispy and perfect. I have a bunch of egg whites sitting, might try it out soon. Love pecans and pecan anything.

    • Emilie says

      If you have some egg whites on hand and ready to go, do it! It’s so, so easy. From memory, it takes about 5 minutes to prep and about 20 minutes or so in the oven. Enjoy! xoxo

    • Emilie says

      There’s just something about the holidays that screams spiced nuts! I can almost ‘smell’ the thought as I type (if that makes any sense). Hope you are enjoying the festive season :) xoxo

  5. Emilie says

    Thanks Jennifer! You know, I’ve had spiced nuts before made in a similar style, but when the egg whites are whisked with just the right amount of air and the pecans themselves are not cooked for too long, the crispy sugar crust becomes quite delicate. Hence the name…

  6. says

    We love spiced and sweet nuts, and I make them all the time. I love experimenting with various spices, and I’m with you on your egg white directions. The aeration make all the difference in the world. Buon natale a te!

    • Emilie says

      Doesn’t it? The egg whites really do create a nice crust. I’m sure your version(s) are fantastic. Hope you are enjoying the festive season, Adri. xoxo

  7. says

    These look amazing and I really appreciate all the tips, really helpful! I have been missing the ginger spiced cashews I used to get at my farmers market since the vendor stopped coming and have been working on creating my own version, I’m going to try your egg white technique with the recipe I’ve been toying with, fingers crossed…Thanks so much for the great inspiration!

  8. Sandee Ritter says

    Your recipe is in today’s newsletter from the Pearl Farmers’ Market here in San Antonio. That’s how I found your blog. Wonderful recipes! Merry Christmas.

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