3 Rules for Baking with Nuts

November 18, 2013

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Your nutty holiday baked goods will taste better if you follow Alice's three simple rules.

3 Rules for Baking with Nuts from Food52

Along with chocolate, nuts are among the superstar ingredients of holiday baking. Here’s a tip sheet for buying, storing, and toasting your own.

1. Buy Nuts in Bulk

Pass up the little packages of nuts in the baking aisle. Buy nuts in bulk from stores that sell plenty, and always taste before you buy. Buy what you can use in a few weeks. Keep nuts in an airtight container in a cool dry place or in the fridge or freezer if you know you won’t be using them. 

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3 Rules for Baking with Nuts from Food52

2. Chop Nuts Yourself

Whole nuts and large pieces stay fresh longer than little pieces: Even if a recipe calls for chopped nuts, buy whole or large pieces (whole almonds and hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecan halves or halves and pieces) and chop them yourself. (Slivered and sliced almonds are an exception -- not possible to make yourself!)

3 Rules for Baking with Nuts from Food52

3. Toast Nuts Yourself (and How)

Freshly roasted nuts taste better than store-bought. Even if a recipe calls for toasted nuts, buy raw nuts and toast them yourself. Here's how:

Spread nuts (before chopping) in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet in a preheated oven (350° F for almonds and hazelnuts, 325° F for pecans and walnuts) for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the type of nut and whether they are whole, half, sliced, or slivered.

Check the nuts frequently and redistribute them on the pan. Almonds and hazelnuts are done when they are golden brown inside. Pecans and walnuts are done when they are fragrant and lightly colored.

To rub skins from toasted hazelnuts, cool them thoroughly, then rub them together in your hands or in a tea towel, or place them in a large coarse-mesh strainer and run them against the mesh until most of the skins flake off. 

More: How to make your own nut milks at home.

Alice's new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet.


Photo by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • sexyLAMBCHOPx
  • Alice Medrich
    Alice Medrich
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    Kate Motter
  • ChefJune
  • cookinginvictoria
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


sexyLAMBCHOPx November 18, 2013
How long will well wrapped nuts last in the freezer?
Alice M. November 18, 2013
I never found that the classic tea towel "steaming" technique made a difference! The amount of skin that comes off the nuts seems to be more a function of the particular batch of hazelnuts than whether they were covered with a tea towel. Perhaps we need a controlled test! But I do know that rubbing the cooled nuts against the mesh of a large strainer is extremely helpful, and this is how we dealt with huge quantities of toasted nuts in my bakery years ago. Regardless, I don't make myself nuts (so to speak) over a little skin left on some of the nuts. For most projects it's not a problem. As to blanching in water and baking soda, I agree that it's messy and annoying— although it does get all of the skins off—and I rarely if ever do it!
Kate M. November 18, 2013
Any tips for rule #1? Where are some good place to find bulk nuts? Thanks!
AntoniaJames November 18, 2013
Trader Joe's nut prices are even better than the bulk prices for nuts, at least in the SF Bay Area. They have a very high turnover, so at least every bag I've bought has been nice and fresh. The very best quality around here come from the farmers' markets; we're fortunate to be so close to areas where many nuts are grown. ;o)
ChefJune November 18, 2013
#3 here, thrilled with the suggestion to rub those hazelnuts against a strainer! Those little suckers can be a royal pain.
AntoniaJames November 18, 2013
June, it also helps tremendously if you put a tea towel over the hot hazelnuts after you remove them from the oven, while they are cooling. The steam that's created makes removal of the skin so much easier! ;o)
cookinginvictoria November 18, 2013
Like hla, I can never get 100 percent of the skins off with the tea towel method, so I will try the strainer way too. Here is another deskinning tip, blanching with baking soda, channeled through Julia Child and evidently pioneered by Alice herself.
AntoniaJames November 18, 2013
I tried the blanching with baking soda and was not impressed. It was so messy. Covering the nuts with a tea towel to steam-loosen the skins before rubbing works much better for me. ;o)
hardlikearmour November 18, 2013
I will definitely try your mesh strainer tip for hazelnut skins -- I can never seem to remove more than 2/3 of the skins with the tea towel method.