Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Toast your Nuts

NUTS.

It's an adjective. A synonym for crazy, and often a word I use to describe myself.

It's also a noun. It represents many tasty hard-shelled fruits or seeds that grow from various plants.


Hazelnuts are one of them and they have many uses in the culinary world.

Besides being high in monounsaturated (healthy) fats, they are rich in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E and dietary fiber. Bonus!

They pair well with chocolate, like in Nutella or praline truffles, and can be served with fish, like in a Spanish Romesco sauce.

Most of the flavour of nuts comes from the fatty acids in their oils and from browning reactions that produce toasted notes.

Want to know how to make your nuts taste great? Suuuure you do.

The high oil content of nuts makes them suitable to dry cooking methods, such as toasting or roasting, which brings out their flavours and promotes Maillard browning (a really delicious reaction between proteins and sugars). Toast your nuts for recipes like drop cookies, biscotti & brownies for more complexity and richness.

To toast hazelnuts, place them in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat and shake the pan frequently until they are fragrant and darken in colour slightly, about 8 minutes. Alternatively, you can place them on a dry baking tray and bake them at 350 degrees F, shaking the tray frequently, until browned, crisp and toasty-smelling, about 6-8 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on them so they do not burn.

Hazelnuts, like most nuts, have a dark, thin brown skin that adheres to the seed or fruit and acts a protective layer. These skins tend to have a bitter/astringent taste and get stuck in your teeth like nobody's business. Luckily they are brittle and paper-like, so they can be removed quite easily. Yay.


Want to know how? I bet you do.

While warm, place hazelnuts in the center of a clean dish cloth, fold the cloth over them, and rub or massage them around with your hands. For the most part you will be left with skinless nuts and a dish towel full of brown flaky stuff. Some nuts skins are stubborn though (figures) so you might not be able to remove all of them. That's ok.

How to store your nuts.

The high oil content of nuts that makes them so tasty also makes them susceptible to staling due to rancidity which is caused by oxidation of fats that produce off-flavours in the presence of heat, light and moisture. So it's best to store nuts (without the shells) in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. I usually keep mine in the freezer if I've stocked up for a few months.

Nuts lend well to freezing due to their low water content, so there's less risk of damage due to ice crystal formation. The oils, however, also have a tendency to absorb surrounding flavours so it really is important to make sure your container is air-tight.

I hope this post left you feeling very nutty, to say the least. 
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4 comments:

  1. I love the frying pan approach - hadn't heard of that before. I'll have to use that to roast some nuts and make a nice chocolate praline.

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  2. I must be nuts to even think about trying to toast hazelnuts again!

    I tried it once about 6 months ago and used the baking method. I did everything that you mentioned in your post, but I still ended up pulling my hairs out trying to get those skins off!

    I wonder what in the world I did wrong!!?? Yours came off so easily but the skins on my hazelnuts were sticking like glue!

    Maybe it was just a fluke??

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  3. @sheila @ Elements Hmmm...some skins really are stubborn, and not all of them will come off nicely. It may have been that your nuts were older and dried out a bit so the skins adhere more.

    Next time try the stovetop method in a dry frying pan - that's my preferred way. And only toast until they just start to turn darker - don't go too far.

    I hope you have better luck next time!

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