These dang nut clusters have become the bane of my baking existence lately. Very rarely do I get hung up on a recipe enough to test it three times in a row.
At first, I was really pumped about these little clusters. Often while I work, I have Bon Appétit videos on in the background as fun noise and possible inspiration, and a few weeks ago, I happened across this recipe. As I like to have healthier sweet treats around, they seemed right up my alley—hello, they’re mostly nuts and seeds, and by making them at home, you have the ultimate control in portion sizing! It seemed a grand fit for our wants and needs. I was so ready to make them!
Here’s the video, if you’d like to watch that first!
Don’t you just love Carla? She’s my favorite among the BA Staff.
For my first test run, I had nearly all of the ingredients on hand, and I quickly acquired the rest from my grocery’s bulk-bin section. I was all ready to go!
The original recipe is as follows:
1½ cups pecans
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
¾ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons virgin coconut or extra-virgin olive oil, melted
2 large egg whites
⅔ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let cool.
Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture, and fold to coat evenly.
Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly (if your baking sheets are small, you might have to use 2). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
Do Ahead: Cookies can be baked 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
I didn’t make many changes to this recipe. I omitted the coconut flakes as I am allergic to coconut. I did not bulk up the other quantities to make up for lack of volume from the coconut flakes (this is important later). I also used egg-whites-from-a-carton instead of just regular eggs. Both of these contributed to the first batch being kind of a disaster. Working with meringue is also not a great talent of mine. This batch was sort of doomed really.
I had a feeling that I had already goofed, but I went ahead with the process anyway.
Into the oven they went. Can you guess what happened? Can you?
I was mortified when I pulled them out of the oven. They’d mostly stayed together though, the actual clumps of nuts, and I quickly thought up a solution. Enter, the kitchen shears!
See? Not so bad right? And the flavor was outta sight! They had a slight chewiness to them, great stretch when you pulled them apart. Really delightful! I sent the clusters to work with BP, and they were a hit among his coworkers!
I knew what I needed to do. I had to make them again quickly, implementing actual eggs and really concentrating on the meringue preparation. I was feeling very confident! I made them the following week.
I was much more careful with the egg whites this time, and I used real eggs. I also bulked up the proportions to compensate for the missing coconut.
Unfortunately this time, I over-baked them by quite a bit. They lost their chewy stretch. Instead they felt more like candied nuts, or coated granola. I still sent them with BP to work, and they were well received, though the general consensus was that the first batch was still king.
So I went BACK to the drawing board for one last batch. And yes, at this point, even with bulk-bin discounts, the costs were starting to add up. I really do encourage you to wait until you’ve got a bunch of odds-and-ends style nuts in your pantry and use them up in this recipe.
I knew this last batch was going to be amazing. I was still going to use real eggs for the egg whites, and I was still going to be mindful and diligent in my meringue construction. I would add walnuts to the mix this time to beef up the proportions to compensate the for the missing coconut. THIS WAS GOING TO BE THE BEST BATCH EVER! I had all of my notes on hand for consulting. Nothing could go wrong.
They look great. Almost exactly like the picture from the recipe. They have good chewy stretch but still hold together really well. I was pleased as punch! I waited for them to cool and packed up some for BP and his coworkers, as well as a small container for the homestead.
It wasn’t until BP had arrived home later that evening that I even gave the clusters any more thought and brought some back out for us to try. I took a bite, instantly puzzled. There was an off flavor. What was it? I took another bite, and that’s when it hit me. On the very finish, ever so faintly, was the taste of celery salt. Almost like Old Bay. OLD BAY?! How could this happen?! I wracked my brain, trying to figure out where things had gone awry.
I think what happened was this: In an effort to skip the grocery store, I grabbed the last few odds-and-ends type of baggies of nuts from recipes long since past. One of those baggies must have been seasoned with some type of seasoning salt. I didn’t think to check for that, and so into the mix they went, polluting the entire batch.
Sadly, this last batch had to be composted. The celery salt flavor was too pronounced for me to look past it, and I certainly didn’t want to pawn them off on BP’s coworkers. And because of the price of nuts, I’m retiring this recipe test for a little while. I’ll definitely come back to it in the fall, when it’s time to start working on holiday recipes. There are plenty of summer-seasonal recipes to test in the meantime!
I was definitely bummed that the last batch didn’t work out, but I didn’t let it get me down. The whole thing was sort of funny, especially looking back on it now. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by recipes. Everyone makes mistakes in the kitchen! But you have to try! It also really helps to write your recipe tests down, even if it’s just little notes in the margins or a separate word document. That way, you can keep better track of what works and what doesn’t, what changes you’d like to try next time, etc.
Tell me some of your epic baking disasters in the comments below!