December means baking for many of us, me in particular. (Start Your Ovens I whisper to myself.) I have systems for managing to produce the food, savory snacks and desserts for at least four or five events around the holidays but this year I am a little late to get started.  Then I came upon my own best advice published by Rebecca Ffrench on her web site Sweet Home. (“Congenitally overambitious” I said about myself, not this season.) The spiced almond recipe on Rebecca’s site is terrific. But plain, toasted nuts are just as satisfying, the kind of easy preparation you can turn into your signature snack.

People chuckle about burned nuts but there is a professional secret.  Toast them in a low oven.  Spread out whole almonds, walnut halves or hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Place them in a preheated 300°F oven. Bake them for approximately 20 minutes, stirring the nuts from time to time so they bake evenly.  At the half way mark, taste one to see if it is flavorful and cooked through. Continue baking until they are just right. (Almonds take longer to cook through than walnuts or hazelnuts.  Larger pieces take longer than smaller ones.) You can toss the hot nuts in some olive oil then season them with salt and a seasoning blend. Lior Lev Sercarz’s spice blends from La Boîte in New York are inspired. I especially like Marrakech No. 6, a combination of cumin, cinnamon, thyme and other spices.