Oh Nuts! (and Hazelnut Orange Rosemary Brittle)

This time of year we use a lot of nuts – especially almonds and hazelnuts (Filberts). If you need to remove the skins, it can be a little time consuming so plan ahead. Deal with the nuts early so your cookie and candy making is a breeze later. Most cookies, candy and nut flours are better when these nuts are skinned. The skins can add bitterness to your baked goods and make them drier than they should be. Here are the easy techniques for removing those pesky skins:

Almonds: Almonds need to be blanched to remove the skins. Bring a large pot with water to a rolling boil (about 4 times the amount of the nuts you want to skin). Add the almonds to the boiling water and set the timer for 1 minute. When the timer dings, fish out one almond and pinch it by the pointy end (the opposite end is the blunt end). The skin should slide right off. If it doesn’t, give the nuts another 30 seconds in the hot water. Drain the nuts in a colander. Cool 5 minutes and then pinch each nut to remove the skin. (Something to do in front of a good movie.) Lay out the skinned almonds overnight on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered. (You can also dry them in a low oven – 200F for 1-2 hours.) Your blanched almonds are now ready to toast, grind or use whole raw.

Hazelnuts (Filberts): These flavorful nuts are a local (Oregon) crop. Generally, they are always sold with the skins on. These loose skins can flake off and create a mess in your candies or cookies. To remove the skins, preheat the oven to 350F. Spread out the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Toast the nuts for 8-15 minutes, or until the skins crack and start to separate from the nut. (Shaking the pan a few times while toasting will give you a good idea if the skins are starting to release.) Remove the nuts from the oven and place them in a cotton kitchen towel. Wrap them up tightly and let them sit for at least 20 minutes. Open up the towel and using the ends of the towel, gently massage and rub the nuts until the skins are removed. (I periodically remove the skinned nuts to a bowl so I have less to work with and can identify the problem nuts.) Don’t worry if every piece of skin is removed. If you get 90%, you’re doing fine. The nuts are now toasted, so go ahead and grind them for hazelnut flour or add them to candy, such as this favorite of mine – Hazelnut Orange and Rosemary Brittle.

Hazelnut Brittle with Rosemary and Orange

I created this confection when I was the pastry chef at Salish Lodge and Spa. It was wintertime (hence the orange zest) and large rosemary bushes surrounding the lodge are accessible – even in winter. The hazelnuts came from a local supplier in Oregon. The perfect Pacific Northwest treat!

Yield: About 1 pound brittle

1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup honey
3 tablespoons water
1 cup hazelnuts, skins removed and lightly toasted
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

zest of ½ orange

Spray a piece of foil, approximately 12 x 16 inches, with 100% oil spray (such as safflower or canola). Spray a rubber spatula and set aside. Have ready the spray and a pair of gloves for handling the hot brittle.

Prepare the nuts, rosemary and orange zest in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the sugar, honey and water in a 3 qt. heavy-bottomed pan. Stir with your finger to make sure no dry sugar is on the bottom of the pot. Wash down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. (Do not stir the sugar once it starts boiling or it may crystalize.)

Cook the sugar mixture over high heat without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes to a medium-dark amber, about 300°F-320°F. (I like this brittle on the dark side, so I wait to see a dark caramel color and a puff of smoke release over the pot. Then I know it’s ready.)

Working quickly, remove the sugar from the heat and stir in the nuts, rosemary, and orange zest with the sprayed spatula.

Pour the brittle out onto the foil and spread it quickly with the spatula as thin as you can get it (approx. 1/8 inch thick). Let it cool completely.

Break the brittle into pieces and store it in an airtight container or fill cellophane bags and tie them with ribbon to give as gifts.

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