Serve breakfast breads and other treats anytime with Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More by Carole Walter, with inspirations like Irish Whiskey Cake; Midnight Chocolate Glaze; and Zucchini Loaf with Apricots and Dates.
The English walnut is most familiar and most frequently used in baking. Walnuts are available year-round, shelled and unshelled. Look for shelled nuts that are plump, meaty, and crisp; dark-colored, shriveled walnuts are past their prime and often have a bitter overtone. Shelled walnuts can be purchased whole, broken, or chopped. Refrigerate or freeze to keep them from turning rancid.
Toasting nuts not only enhances flavor by enlivening their oils but also adds extra crunchiness. Toast nuts before they are chopped. Be sure to let them cool completely before using. Cooling allows the oils to be reabsorbed into the nutmeat. Also, chopping nuts before cooling can cause them to become pasty; adding warm nuts to batters or doughs may melt the butter.
Line a heavy-gauge rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Toast the nuts in a single layer in a moderate to low oven (300 degrees to 325 degrees F).The length of toasting time will depend on the volume, size, and oil content of the nut. Color and fragrance are the best guidelines for determining when the nuts are done. In a blanched or skinless nut, look for a slight change in color. Fragrance is the best test for unskinned nuts. As soon as the nuts begin to release their aroma, remove them from the oven. Once nuts become overly toasted, they are bitter and should be discarded.
Remember that nuts with a high oil content toast much more quickly than those with a low oil content. Never toast nuts with different oil contents on the same pan. (For example, . pecans and almonds.) High-fat nuts like cashews and macadamias take 6 to 8 minutes, while pecans and walnuts take 8 to 10 minutes. Pistachios, while small, are soft, so I recommend toasting for 6 to 8 minutes. Hard, less oily nuts like almonds take 12 to 15 minutes or longer to toast.
This method is sometimes used for small nuts like pine nuts (pignolis), as well as sliced or slivered almonds. However, although this is a satisfactory solution when time is an issue, nothing can replace the color or flavor of oven-toasted nuts.
Chopping nuts to the correct size can sometimes determine the difference between the success and failure of a recipe. Chopping nuts by hand produces uniform pieces while losing the least amount of oil. Nuts chopped in the food processor will be irregular in size and more oily. Here are suggestions for the best way to chop nuts.
Nuts are broken by hand into large, irregular pieces 3/8 to 1/2 inch. Softer nuts like walnuts and pecans are the best candidates. Coarsely Chopped Place the nuts on a cutting board and use a chef's knife to chop them into the size of dried chickpeas, 1/4 to 3/8-inch pieces. If you don't have a chef's knife, you may place the nuts in a wooden bowl and chop them with a crescent-shaped hand chopper.
Nuts should be chopped by hand into pieces slightly smaller than 1/4 inch, about the size of dried lentils or split peas.
Nuts should be chopped by hand into barley-size pieces, about 1/8 inch.
Pulverize or grind the nuts to a meal-like texture. A Mouli grater is the ideal home tool for making nut meal because it produces the most powdery consistency with a minimal amount of oil loss.
While food processors are super time-savers for chopping nuts, care must be taken not to overprocess:
It will take longer to chop hard nuts such as almonds than soft nuts like walnuts and pecans. Always stop the processor and check the size of the nuts when chopping over a period of time; scrape around the edge of the bowl, if necessary.
To separate larger pieces of nuts from nut dust, empty the chopped nuts into a widegauge strainer or colander placed over a sheet of wax paper or baking parchment. Shake the strainer to separate the smaller particles of dust. Reuse these particles in recipes calling for finely chopped nuts.
When chopping smaller quantities of nuts, a great time-saver is to place them in a plastic bag and use a batarde, mallet, or the bottom of a heavy saucepan to crush them. Press the air out of the bag and seal it well before crushing.
Use graduated measuring cups when measuring nuts. There is some confusion regarding recipe terminology and chopped nuts. When a recipe calls for " 1 cup nuts, chopped," you should measure die nuts first and then chop them. If the recipe calls for "1 cup chopped nuts," chop the nuts first, then measure. The measurement between the two will differ because chopped nuts are reduced in volume and the spaces between larger pieces disappear. For 1 cup chopped nuts, measure 1 generous cup whole nuts.
This page created January 2008
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