Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home. In this edition of Small Batch, Marisa McClellan of Food In Jars helps us stock our pantry with some of her favorite nut butters. Marisa is the author of Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round.
Several years ago, I found myself obsessed with nut butters. I was always on the lookout for new flavors and nut combinations and was willing to pay truly obscene amounts of money for small jars of cinnamon vanilla sunflower butter or coconut peanut butter.
Soon enough, I came to my senses (helped by a quick tally of how much I’d spent) and realized that all these little tubs contained were nuts, sweeteners and spices. Hoping that my 30-year-old food processor was up to the job, I got to work. The very first batch of maple roasted almond butter sealed the deal. When it comes to fancy nut butters, homemade is most definitely the way to go.
Things to keep in mind:
Always start with raw nuts and seeds and roast them at home. This step does add an extra 30 minutes of work (though it's mostly hands-off) before you can start pureeing, but the payoff is a great deal more flavor. I’ve also found that warm nuts and seeds are easier to grind than cold or room temperature ones.
Keep volumes low. I have an 11-cup food processor, and it just can’t handle more than 2 cups of nuts or seeds. I learned the hard way: I tried to make a larger batch once, and the stress it put on my processor left the motor dangerously hot and ever so slightly smoky.
Taste as you go. As with so many other cooking projects, it’s best to start with a small amount of spices or sweeteners and then add more as needed. Also make note of whether you’re working with salted or unsalted nuts, as that will affect how much salt you add during the grinding process.
Don’t be afraid to add a little neutral oil. A tablespoon or two can really help get things moving and will get you to a finished texture more quickly.
Choose your stirring implements with care. After perforating my favorite silicon spatula with the food processor blades, I now only use a flat wooden turner for stirring the nut butter.
The process for a basic or flavored batch of almond butter:
Spread 2 cups of raw almonds out on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast in a 325°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the almonds puff a bit and smell very fragrant.
When the nuts are nicely browned, remove your pan from the oven and let the almonds cool for a few minutes. You want them to be warm, not piping hot.
Once the almonds are cool enough to handle, tumble them into the bowl of a food processor. If the almonds are unsalted, add 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt. Pulse 7 or 8 times, until you’ve got a fine almond meal.
Add a tablespoon of nut or neutral oil (I have a bottle of walnut oil in my fridge and use that for all nut butter projects) and run the motor for 30 to 45 seconds. Stop, remove the lid and scrape the almonds down the sides and off the bottom of the processor bowl.
Repeat the process of running the motor and scraping the bowl 4 or 5 times, until the almonds look drippy and spreadable. Add another tablespoon of oil if they look too dry.
Taste and add more salt, if necessary.
Scrape the spread into a pint jar (it won’t be quite full) and refrigerate. Be sure to use the almond butter within 3 to 4 weeks.
Currently, my favorite variety of almond butter is a batch spiked with ginger and honey. For a 2-cup batch, I add one heaping teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and two tablespoons of honey to the almonds as they blend. It’s sweet and just barely spicy, and is a perfect match for a piece of sturdy whole wheat toast.
In my experience, this technique works best with peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and sesame seeds. I haven't had as much luck with pecans and walnuts, though there are plenty of good butters made from them available, so there must be a way. Back to the food processor!
Marisa will be answering questions about nut butters on the Hotline for those of you who want to take on this project at home. For the quickest response, go to her recipe and ask a question from there -- we'll email her your question right away!
In next week's Small Batch, Bi-Rite Creamery founders Anne Walker and Kris Hoogerhyde help us welcome summer with ice cream sandwiches. Get your baking sheets ready, dig that ice cream maker out of storage and give it a good dusting!
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