Tactics for Handling Nuts

Nuts of all sorts-almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts and coconuts-are used in a variety of forms that give a distinctive texture and flavor to candies. A single whole nut dipped in chocolate (pages 74- 75), for instance, makes a simple treat; batches of whole nuts, mixed with caramelized sugar, produce brittles (pages 34-35). Coarsely chopped nuts impart an interesting texture to fudge and nougat (pages 38-39 and 42-43); finely chopped nuts can become an excellent coating for sticky balls of fondant or chocolate paste (pages 32 and 66 -67). Ground nuts, when mixed with sugar and egg, yield a wide range of nut pastes that can be molded into special shapes (pages 56-63).. Preliminary shelling is necessary for all nuts, in whatever form they are to be used, and peeling is desirable to relieve nuts of their dark, bitter inner coat. Coconuts, which are exceptional in size and structure, need special treatment ( opposite, bottom), as do chestnuts (pages 56- 57). Most other nuts are easily shelled, by hand or with a nutcracker, but need to be parboiled or roasted before the skins can be removed. Nuts with fairly loose skins-pistachio nuts and almonds, for instance- are easy to peel if they are first parboiled (right, top). The boiling water penetrates the porous fibers of the skins, softening them and separating them from the kernels. However, when the nuts cool, the skins harden and cling again, so the peeling must be completed while the nuts are still warm. Nuts with tighter skins, such as Brazil nuts or hazelnuts, need to be roasted until their skins become parched and flaky (opposite, top). Once shelled and peeled, nuts can either be used plain, or toasted in an oven to darken their color and enhance their flavor. The nuts can be chopped with a heavy knife (right), or ground with a pestle and mortar or in an electric food processor (far right). A food processor transforms nuts into a fine and barely moist powder suitable for most candymaking purposes. Pounding in a mortar extracts more oil from the nuts and can produce a wet paste; if you use this method, it is essential to add a little egg white to help absorb excess oil.

l Parboiling nuts. Put a smallquantity of shelled nuts-in this case,almonds-into a pan of boiling waterand parboil them for about two minutes.Turn off the heat and retrieve thenuts with a skimmer (above) or with aperforated ladle; alternatively,remove the pan from the heat and drainthe nuts in a colander.

2 Removing the skins. Let the nuts cool slightly. With your fingers, squeeze each nut lightly but firmly to pop it from its skin. To dry the nuts thoroughly so that they will keep longer, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a preheated 325° F. [ 160° C.] oven for five minutes. Store the nuts in an airtight jar that is kept in a cool place.

Chopping nuts. Put the nutspistachio nuts, here- on a work surface. Place the edge of a heavy, sharp knife blade across the nuts, and rest your free hand on the knife tip to hold it against the work surface. Slowly move the knife in an arc from side to side while rocking it up and down to chop the nuts.

Processing nuts. Put cooled, peeled nuts-almonds, in this case-in the bowl of a food processor. Operate the processor in short bursts to produce a coarse flour. (Continuous operation would heat the nuts and make them oily.) Between bursts, push down nuts that cling to the processor bowl.

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