Super-fresh pecans and spices in this simple recipe take a perennial Southern favorite from the ordinary to the sublime. Have these treats out on the counter in a pretty bowl when guests arrive, or package them in decorated half-pint jars for a pretty—and much appreciated—hostess gift.
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Spread the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar, salt, chile powder and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil without stirring, and boil until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (a drop of the syrup forms a soft ball when dropped in cold water, usually at 235° F). Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla and let cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
In a separate bowl, stir together all the topping ingredients.
As soon as the pecans come out of the oven, pour them into the saucepan with the sugar-cinnamon mixture and stir continuously until the sugar mixture begins to lighten in color and thickens slightly. Pour the pecans back onto the baking sheet, spreading them evenly, and sprinkle with the topping. Using your fingers or a rubber spatula, separate the pecans, tossing gently to coat them completely with the topping. Let cool to room temperature, and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.