Pecans add crunch to peppery crackers

November 29, 1995|By Carol J.G. Ward | Carol J.G. Ward,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

What family get-together or holiday dinner is complete without a thick, rich, sugary, syrupy pecan pie? It's one of the most popular Southern desserts, made with the region's favorite nut.

Although pecan pie might be among the most popular Southern desserts, it's just one way to enjoy the nuts. Try them roasted with butter and sugar or salt. They are also favorite additions to stuffings and salads and are a staple for breads and cakes.

The pecan is a variety of the American hickory nut. Pecan trees are planted and thrive throughout the South as far north as Virginia. But the trees do best in the Deep South from Georgia to Louisiana to Texas. The leading producers are Texas and Georgia, according to the Southeastern Pecan Growers Association.

When buying unshelled nuts, choose those that are heavy for their size with solid shells free from cracks or holes. Shelled nuts should be plump, crisp and uniform in color and size, Sharon Tyler Herbst writes in "The Food Lover's Tiptionary." Avoid those that are shriveled or discolored.

Packaged shelled nuts are harder to test for freshness. If they're in a cellophane bag, snap a couple through the wrapping. They should break rather than bend, which indicates they're past their prime.

Store nuts in an airtight container in a cool place. Shelled nuts can be refrigerated for up to four months or frozen for up to eight months. As a general rule, unshelled nuts will keep twice as long as shelled nuts.

Hot nut crackers

Makes 52 crackers

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon red pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter or margarine

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

dash of hot sauce

4 to 6 tablespoons cold water

1 cup pecan halves

Combine the first three ingredients; cut in butter and cheese with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add hot sauce. Sprinkle cold water (1 tablespoon at a time) evenly over the flour mixture; stir with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Shape into a ball.

Roll dough to 1/8 -inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2 1/2 -inch round cutter. Press a pecan half to right of center of each circle. Moisten edges of circle with water; fold in half, and press edges together with a fork. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

Per cracker: Calories, 145; protein, 10.1 g; carbohydrates, 7.31 g; total fat, 8.85 g; cholesterol, 35.3 mg; saturated fat, 3.1 g calcium, 164 mg; iron, 1.46 mg.

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