August 27, 2013
Few nuts are as notably improved by roasting as the hazelnut.
Most raw hazelnuts you find at the store are, in truth, a little chewy and a little bland, like a draft version of themselves. But a healthy roasting fixes that, boosting the flavor and allowing the excess water to evaporate, thereby leaving you with wonderfully crisp nuggets of pure nuttiness.
The bonus advantage of roasting hazelnuts is that it gives you the opportunity to skin them while you're at it, rubbing them in a kitchen towel as the bitter husk easily detaches into a million little flakes you do not want to accidentally spill on your kitchen floor, trust me.
I've detailed the (super easy) process below, but first I wanted to ask: did you ever stop to wonder why the skin comes off hazelnuts more easily after roasting? Well, let me tell you why*. It's because water, this incredible, magical element, expands when heated. This means that hazelnuts, which are partly made of water, become slightly bigger when heated. But their papery brown skin isn't as elastic, so it is soon forced to loosen its grip on the surface of the nut. Once cooled, the hazelnuts return to their original size but the skin doesn't stretch back down, remaining cracked, loose, and easy to rub off. Neat, huh?
Anyway. Here are the key steps in roasting and skinning hazelnuts:
Measuring: I roast my hazelnuts by the 500 grams (about 4 cups, a little over one pound) because that's the amount that fits nicely in a single layer on my rimmed baking sheet, leaving the nuts a little -- but not too much -- wiggle room.
Roasting: I insert the baking sheet in the oven preheated to 180°C (360°F), and leave the nuts in for 15 minutes, stirring them every 5 minutes or so. They are done when they are fragrant, their skin cracked and glistening. Because the husk is pretty dark, it can be hard to tell if it's starting to turn black and burn, so if you're unsure, it's best to err on the side of under-roasted.
Note: To make optimal use of the now heated oven, I may roast a batch of almonds or pumpkin seeds to follow, or schedule the roasting when I have another dish to bake.
Skinning: I pour the nuts into a clean kitchen towel (they may over-roast if left on the baking sheet) and let cool. I then close the towel up into a bundle, and give it an energetic massage so the hazelnuts will rub against one another and the skin will come off in little flakes. Not all of it will, and that's okay.
Storing: I transfer the hazelnuts to a big jar, collecting them delicately from the towel with my cupped hands and making sure as little of the skin flakes come with. How long the roasted hazelnuts will keep before going rancid depends on how fresh they were to begin with -- in most cases, you should be good for a couple of months.
Eating: I confess that most of the hazelnuts I roast and skin in this fashion, I end up snacking on with dried fruit such as prunes, figs, pears, or dates, as mentioned in this post about food gifts. But I also love to eat them on Roasted Cauliflower à la Mary Celeste, use them for a Hazelnut and Nectarine Gratin, or grind them to make Dukkah, this fantastic spice mix from Egypt. (More hazelnut recipes?)
Join the conversation! Do you usually roast and skin the nuts you cook and bake with? And what's your favorite way to enjoy hazelnuts?
* I only learned this recently as the owner of U Salognu described this very process to explain how he skinned the chestnuts for his chestnut flour.
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