Going Nuts

Nuts add flavor, texture, visual appeal to homemade cookies. They always pair nicely with chocolate.

Having no gluten, they can be ground and used to substitute for wheat flour in many cookie recipes. Nuts of different sizes can effectively change density and texture of many baked goods.

Except for coconuts, these relatively expensive cookie ingredients are an excellent source of healthy polyunsaturated fats, fibers, proteins, and vitamins. They should be stored in a cool, dark place. Once opened, refrigerate them in well sealed containers for up to 3 months, or freeze them for up to a year.

almonds is a hard nut
We use sweet almonds in baking and bitter almonds for
flavoring. These come in many forms – blanched, unblanched, whole, ground, sliced… They are grown in many parts of the world including California. Almonds are ideal for grounding into flour due to their hard texture.

Natural or unblanched almonds still have their brown skin intact. This brown skin lends a desirable contrast in color for visual appeal. It also provides a rare and distinctive taste of astringency. Without their brown skin, blanched almonds tend to be sweeter and milder in flavor.

blanched almonds

To blanch almonds, soak them in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. The skin will pull away from the nut and can be easily peeled off. Remove the moistened skin promptly to prevent it from discoloring the almond meat.

Cashews originate in Brazil, India, and West Indies. They are particularly rich in proteins and high in unsaturated fat. Besides pairing very well with chocolate, cashews offer homemade cookies a natural buttery taste.

coconutAlthough it is uncertain where coconuts originated, they are now cultivated in many areas with tropical climates.

The sweetened variety is made by cooking coconut meat with sugar before drying. It contains added chemical to enhance its appearance and preserve its freshness. Unsweetened variety is more nutritious but dry and flavorless by itself.

Desiccated coconuts contain less than 5% water, and is made by drying coconut meat. It is a concentrated source of coconut oil and flavor.

Although rich in potassium and vitamins, coconuts are very high in saturated fat compared to other kinds.

Hazelnuts or filberts are grown primarily in the Mediterranean region. They are small with thin brown skin. Their flavor is greatly enhanced when toasted. The hard interior turns them into perfect candidate for flour.

Gianduja is a smooth blend of finely ground hazelnuts and chocolate.

To blanch hazelnuts,

  • Place them on a baking sheet and heat them for about 12 or 15 minutes, or just until fragrance starts to develop.

  • Remove from oven and place in a clean cloth towel.

  • Rub hazelnuts in the towel and most of the skin will come off.

peanutsPeanuts are legumes with pods ripen underground. They have the highest protein content of all. A native of South America, they are however rarely used in Europe. Two common varieties are Virginia and Spanish.

Peanut butter is a well liked staple in American diet for over a century. It is a good source of protein, folate, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Would you like to know what arachibutyrophobia is? (the answer is coming up)

Macadamia originate in Australia, and are now also grown in California and Hawaii. They have a high fat content but go well with chocolate.

Pecans are grown mostly in southern part of the United States. They are available year round and have the highest fat content of all.

Cultivated in Mediterranean, Middle East, and California, Pistachios are available year round in many forms – shelled (either natural pale tan or dyed red), unshelled, raw, roasted, salted, unsalted. They are ripened when their shells are lightly open.

Pistachios are traditionally eaten as snack, but their use in baked goods including cookies is becoming prevalent, especially when they can also be made into flour.

mix nuts

Walnuts originate in southwestern Europe and central Asia. They are rich in proteins and fat, available year round as shelled or unshelled.

English walnuts are very popular in many bakeshops. Black walnuts with an astringent flavor usually have a premium price tag to match. Due to their strong flavor, toasting is not always necessary.

It is most accurate to measure nuts using graduated measuring cups, and follow directions in your easy cookie recipes.

  • If recipes call for chopped nuts, it means chopping first and then measuring.
  • Reversing this order if they indicate nuts, chopped.

Toasting develops and improves flavor in fresh and stale nuts, respectively. It also darkens color and imparts a crisp texture.

  • Spread nuts in a single layer on a sheet pan.

  • Place in an oven at 325 or 350 degrees F. for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until they have a light brown color and sweet nutty taste.

  • Cool completely before use, or refrigerate in airtight containers and use within a few days.

Without further ado, Arachibutyrophobia is fear of peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of your mouth. 🙂

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Images are courtesy of On Baking – A Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals by Sarah R. Labensky with Eddy Van Damme, Priscilla Martel and Klaus Tenbergen.