Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52—with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.
Today: The case for nut butter you have to stir—and a recipe to make once you've done the work.
I’m crazy for nut and seed butters. Give me any one of them—peanut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, sesame—and I’m going to want to eat it out of the jar, or spread it on bread or celery, make a savory or spicy sauce or dip of it, or turn it into a cookie or dessert.
Working on Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt in Your Mouth Cookies a few years ago, I discovered that nut and seed butters could be partially folded into meringue to make light-as-cloud cookies with veins of rich nutty flavor in contrast to the sweet meringue.
The discovery lead to a multitude of transformative variations including an astonishing (heavenly) new Peanut Butter Pavlova—crunchy on the exterior and marshmallow-y within—with juicy ripe strawberries. The Crunchy Almond Butter Meringue recipe that follows is yet another way to go for an easy late summer dessert with a significant do-ahead feature (since dry crunchy meringues are long-lasting if stored in airtight containers.)
Now, about the nut butter. If you don’t make your own, what kind of nut butter should you buy? I’m a fan (more like fanatic) of what used to be called “natural” peanut butter made only with nuts and salt, or just with nuts if salt is an issue for you. I extend the same standard to all nut butters. First, I don’t want sugar or any other sweetener to dilute or distract from the nut flavor—we pastry chefs tend to want to control the addition of sugar (and everything else if possible). Second, I don’t want emulsifiers or other random fats in my nut butter.
Alas, for me this rules out “no stir” nut butters because in order to prevent fat separation, something (even just another kind of fat) must be added to keep the ingredients in suspension. And so I am resigned to stirring, because the oil in the nuts inevitably separates in the jar. If you don’t share my fanaticism about unnecessary emulsifiers, you can go ahead and buy “no stir,” but I put my foot down at sweetened nut butters. The beauty (genius, really) of combining nut butter and meringue is that it allows you to add so much pure flavor without also adding sugar.
Here’s how to stir a new jar of nut butter without getting nut oil all over the counter: Scoop the entire contents of a new jar into a bowl and stir well. Refill the jar. If you use it regularly, very little stirring will be required thereafter. When necessary, I use a long-handled soda spoon to stir the nut butter from the bottom to the top of the jar before using—two or three strokes is all it takes. Or you can refrigerate the jar to prevent oil separation—just bring the measured amount to room temperature for this recipe so it will fold more easily into the meringue.
From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012)
Serves 8 to 10
cup well-stirred, smooth or crunchy roasted almond butter, at room temperature
1 pinch salt, as needed for nut butter
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup (130 grams) sugar plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 1/2 pints bush berries such as blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries, or a combination
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (30 grams) sliced or coarsely chopped almonds
Photos by James Ransom