Candied Brown Butter and Cocoa Hazelnuts

brown butter candied hazelnuts

One of the amazing things about egg whites is that you can freeze them for a year and they’ll be OK. Actually, they might even be better than OK. I learned this from Mindy Segal, who pointed out that old egg whites make better meringues than fresh-outta-the-shell egg whites. She said it’s even fine to leave whites at room temperature overnight before using them as long as the room isn’t too warm.

This was good news, because I had a few baggies of egg whites in my freezer left over from the times I needed only the yolks to make citrus curd or cookies when testing recipes for Cookie Love. (BTW, if you have extra egg whites, freeze them two at a time in plastic sandwich bags. Whites from large eggs are roughly 30 grams each, so if you have a bunch of egg whites frozen in a block, use this measurement to weigh out the whites needed for the recipe.) For the past year, they had become buried behind more captivating ingredients, like teff flour, sesame seeds, and walnuts. It was time for me to do something about the situation.

Figuring out what to do next was the easy part. Flourless, a naturally gluten-free baking book by Nicole Spiridakis, has a lot of ideas that I’ve been wanting to try out, and Nicole is all about baking with egg whites. With the egg whites defrosted (by leaving them at room temperature for an hour) I was ready to go. Instead of making cookies or a cake, however, I opted to try Nicole’s recipe for candied hazelnuts.

There are countless ways to candy nuts, but one of the ways is to use whipped egg whites to coat them before baking. The egg whites impart a crunchy, opaque coating. (For pristine, glossy candied nuts, try boiling them in simple syrup and then scattering them across a Silpat and baking them.)

For Nicole’s cocoa-dusted salted hazelnuts, she found a way to get brown butter to play a role, too, and it’s a solid move, since brown butter tastes like hazelnuts.

Here’s the deal: you bake the egg white-and-cocoa coated hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet with melted butter. As the nuts bake, the butter browns. You give the pan an occasional stir so the butter gets mixed into the egg whites. And that’s it. I sprinkled the nuts with some flakey sea salt, but they are fine on their own, too. I took them over to a pot luck and friends went to town on them. Even though they’re a treat, they are also one of those snacks that you can eat before or after dinner because they’re really not that sweet. So, happy friends = recipe success. Plus, the leftover egg white situation had been resolved. Why it took me a year to make these, well, that’s the part I need to improve.

Candied Brown Butter and Cocoa Hazelnuts
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
In her book, Flourless, Nicole Spiridakis notes that she was inspired to make these candied hazelnuts after sampling (several times over) the cocoa-dusted almonds from San Francisco chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. She says that you can use any nut for this recipe, but hazelnuts are a natural fit for the brown butter. I took the liberty of doubling the cocoa, but you don’t have to. The recipe also can be cut in half (I tried that, too), but the nuts keep well and make good gifts.
Kate Leahy:
Recipe type: baking
Cuisine: Californian
Serves: 6-10; Makes 5 cups
  • 3 cups hazelnuts
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 egg whites (large, extra-large, or jumbo is fine; precision not essential)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Sea salt flakes for garnish (optional)
  1. Heat the oven to 325°F. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. (It’s OK if they’re not 100% toasted; they’ll be baked more later.)
  2. If the hazelnuts have skins, wrap them up in a kitchen towel while still warm and rub them to loosen the skins. It’s not essential to remove all the skins.
  3. Scatter the butter on the same baking sheet used to toast the nuts. Put the baking sheet in the oven and melt the butter, a few minutes. remove the pan once the butter is melted.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl with a whisk (and a strong arm), whip the egg whites until they form fine bubbles. Alternatively, do all this with the whisk attachment in a stand mixer on medium speed. Or use a hand-held mixer. Add the sugar in 3 to 4 installments, continuing to whip until the egg whites are glossy.
  5. Sift the cocoa over the egg whites and stir to incorporate. Add the nuts and fold to coat evenly in the egg whites.
  6. Spread the coated nuts on the baking sheet with the melted butter. Bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, then give the nuts a good stir. Bake for 10 more minutes. Give it another stir to encourage the meringue soaks up all the butter, then bake a final time for 10 to 15 minutes or until the meringue seems to be set around the nuts. It will continue to crisp up as it cools.
  7. Let the nuts cool completely. For sweeter or saltier hazelnuts, sprinkle with more sugar or sea salt flakes while still warm.
  8. The nuts keep for at least a week in a sealed container at room temperature.



Whole-Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies

gluten-free chocolate chip

gluten-free, whole-grain chocolate chip cookies

Like a lot of people who have been baking with ancient grain, gluten-free, or any sort of flour variety that can be filed under “alternative,” my freezer is full of bags sealed with twisty-ties from the bulk bins. Some of it was accumulated over the past year from impulse shopping, and—not gonna lie—it’s a little out of control. But it has allowed me to do a fair bit of baking experimentation in an effort to clean house. [click to continue…]

Kumquat Marmalade

When I was testing recipes for Cookie Love last year, I needed to make a marmalade with kumquats for kolachkes, Polish cookies. The problem was that kumquats, a spring fruit in Northern California, were already out of season (this was July).

Fortunately, I had a lucky break. After telling Rebecca, a baking enthusiast, that I couldn’t find any more kumquats at the market, she said she could climb a tree in her backyard and pick the fruit that were hanging over her fence. So not only were the kumquats fresh-from-the-plant sweet, they were also free. (I owe you one, Rebecca.)


This year, while I didn’t have to test any specific kumquat recipe, it was still hard for me to pass them up [click to continue…]

Smashed Cucumber Salad with Garlic and Chiles

smashed cucumber salad
Foraging may be all the rage among fancy chefs, but in Hong Kong, foraging takes on a different significance.

Or so Alvin Leung wants you to believe. “I don’t understand why chefs want to forage for vegetables and herbs,” he told the audience at last week’s Worlds of Flavor conference as he stared down the crowd through blue-tinted glasses.

“In Hong Kong we forage for handbags. I foraged over in Hong Kong and I was arrested for shoplifting.”

Leung, raised in Toronto, is the mind behind Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, where he serves X-Treme Chinese Cuisine (his words). He also says he makes Frankenstein food, funky stuff. He finished the plate he was demonstrating on stage by slamming a fat daisy in the center. He found the flower while foraging in the Napa Valley—at a cemetery. Or so he claimed.

Leung’s presentation was one of many at the CIA’s annual conference held at the culinary school’s Greystone campus in St. Helena. [click to continue…]

Where to go in Raleigh, NC


Beers al fresco at Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co.

Anyone who has driven down Highway 101 from the Bay Area toward the California coast has passed a sign proclaiming “It’s Happening in Soledad.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. My cousins have a ranch in Soledad. I assumed they used it to get away from all that is happening. Soledad is near the Pinnacles national park, a prison, and little else. My memory of the actual town (visited circa 1988; we ate honey-filled sopaipillas in a no-name diner) is sparse. I think of tumbleweeds rolling down the main drag, although the tumbleweeds probably only existed in my imagination.

Raleigh, though it doesn’t have a sign that says so, is truly happening. Before Mindy’s book launch and after the IACP conference in D.C., I put aside a few days to pay my friend Liz a visit. Liz and I met in grad school at Northwestern. She ended up covering banking for Bloomberg in New York City. My path–working for a trade magazine in which whiffle ball game participation was mandatory–was completely different. Maybe that’s why we got along so well: we respected that each of us would do our own thing. [click to continue…]

Cookie Love is out! April Cookbook Events

hot fudge cocoa nib rugelach

At last, it’s Cookie Love‘s on sale date! Mindy has hit the road (she’s currently in NYC), and I’ll be meeting up with her when she arrived in San Francisco later this week. I wrote a bit about the backstory of Cookie Love for Taste Book. (It involved listening to early Black Sabbath.) And if you’re in NYC, SF, PDX, Seattle, or Chicago, here’s where to catch Mindy this month (and snag a signed book). [click to continue…]

What to Ask Yourself Before Collaborating on a Chef Cookbook


Paul Virant glazing a tart for The Preservation Kitchen, Jeff Kauck with the camera.

This past weekend, my panel at the IACP conference hit on a lot of important points about chef cookbook collaborations. (Before the conference, I had posted this piece about my experience writing chef cookbooks.) After our panel discussion, I thought I’do take a deeper dive into the subject and write a post about what we talked about at the conference to help people navigate this nebulous side of cookbook writing.

And so: If you are a writer who wants to write a book with a chef, here is a list of questions to ask yourself before you start. [click to continue…]

The Truth about Chef Cookbook Collaborations

kate leahy cookbooks

On Saturday, I’ll be on a panel at the IACP conference in Washington, D.C. The subject we’re tackling is cookbook collaborations—mostly of the chef-writer variety— and I’ll be sharing some of the tips I’ve learned on how to make it work.

What has been fascinating about putting together the presentation is talking about the subject with fellow panelists Anne McBride, Amy Collins, and Jody Eddy (although Jody is stuck in India on assignment and it looks like she’ll miss IACP, sadly). It is gratifying to know you’re not the only one who has been in odd or tough situations before (and I guarantee that everyone who has written a book with a chef has some choice stories to share). It is also inspiring to talk with individuals who get a lot out of the collaboration process. We don’t need to do it: we want to. [click to continue…]

Irish Soda Bread with Tea-Soaked Currants

Irish Soda Bread

There are many things I miss about Chicago, but St Patrick’s Day is not one of them. Far better than drinking green beer at O’Shaunnassey’s Blarney Stone Saloon, Bar & Grill and trying to avoid falling into an atomically green Chicago River is to escape the city altogether. And one way to do that is to head to dinner at Vie in Western Springs.

While I don’t think he does it any more, Paul Virant, a friend of mine and the chef and owner of Vie, used to do this low-key prix fixe dinner for St. Patrick’s Day. One of my favorite dishes from the dinner was dead-simple: a toasted slice of Irish soda bread [click to continue…]

Off the Grid


The first time I heard someone say he was going off the grid, I assumed that he was going to unplug and live somewhere in the woods, preferably in Wisconsin.

In the Bay Area, though, Off the Grid means grazing amid food trucks and tents serving a cultural mishmash of food. Since Off the Grid launched in 2010, visiting these food-truck markets has become weekly rituals for many in and around San Francisco. Off the Grid now operate in more than 40 locations, stretching from the North Bay to the South Bay and all the way east to Pleasant Hill and Concord. Personally, I’m looking forward to the new Off the Grid in San Francisco opening just south of ATT Park on 3rd Street (previously an underused parking lot during the baseball offseason).

But the biggest and brightest OtG is the Friday night market at Fort Mason Center. It kicked off the season on March 6th, and it will go through October 30th.

Last Friday, Matt Cohen, the OtG founder, gave a group of us a tour of the market’s newest vendors. I asked him what he looks for when accepting new vendors. He said he looks for vendors who [click to continue…]