Serves: Makes 1 pound nuts, portioned into four (¼-pound) packages
- cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
- ¾ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 pound large or jumbo pecan halves
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet, preferably nonstick for easier cleanup.
Melt the butter on the baking sheet in the oven. Be careful not to let the butter brown. Set aside.
Combine the chile powder and brown sugar in a small bowl. Pour the vanilla over the brown sugar. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar mixture 2 tablespoons at a time, beating on high speed to form a strong, shiny meringue. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the nuts until they are well coated.
Gently tip the rimmed baking sheet so the butter coats the bottom of the pan. Using a rubber spatula, spread the nuts over the butter, without stirring, to form an even layer without deflating the meringue.
Bake the nuts for 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and stir the nuts with a spatula, moving the nuts at the center of the pan to the edges and the nuts at the edges closer to the center. Return the pan to the oven, bake the nuts for 15 minutes longer, and stir them again. Sprinkle the nuts with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.
Continue baking, stirring every 15 minutes, until the nuts are separated, have absorbed the butter and glisten, and are beautifully browned, 45 minutes to 1 hour longer.
Immediately turn the nuts out onto a counter lined with a long sheet of aluminum foil, spread them out, and let cool completely.