Adapted from The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition, by Diane Morgan. Copyright © 2008 by Diane Morgan. With permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books.
This recipe is one of 13 easy-to-make treats from Stir! Mix! Bake! Give!
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add salt and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, pour vanilla extract over brown sugar. Then add sugar mixture, 2 tablespoons at a time, to egg white mixture, beating on high speed to form a strong, shiny meringue (about 10 minutes). Remove bowl from mixer and use a rubber spatula to gently fold in pecan halves until well coated.
Meanwhile, melt butter on a baking sheet in the oven (3 to 5 minutes). Be careful not to let butter brown. Gently tip baking sheet so that butter coats bottom of pan.
Using a rubber spatula, spread nuts over butter, without stirring, to form an even layer without deflating meringue.
Bake nuts for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and stir nuts with a spatula so that nuts at center of pan move to outer rim and those at edges move closer to center. Bake nuts for 15 minutes longer and stir again. Continue baking another 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until nuts are separated, have absorbed butter, and are beautifully browned but not dark brown.
Immediately turn nuts out on a counter lined with a long sheet of aluminum foil. Spread them on foil and allow to cool completely. Store in a tightly covered tin or covered glass container, or present in gift bags or boxes lined with decorative waxed paper. The nuts will keep for 2 to 3 weeks.