Monday, July 14, 2008

Jul 14: Am I Nuts?

That's what I was thinking yesterday.

I'm working on a recipe that requires hazelnuts. In the olden days, when I was growing up, hazelnuts were called filberts. In the world of marketing, I guess hazelnut is not as nerdy sounding as filberts.

Most recipes call for skinning the hazelnut. Roasting with the skin on can result in a bitter end product. However, finding skinned hazelnuts was difficult so I ended buying whole shelled nuts.

On a raw hazelnut, the skins are difficult, if not impossible, to rub off.

Doing research on the Internet I found a few different approaches for roasting and skinning techniques. Basically, the methods boiled down to blanching or roasting.

These two sites offered good info:
Hazelnut Marketing Board These guys are the hazelnut experts - Recommends roasting 275F for 15 to 20 minutes. Wrap in a terry cloth towel for 5 to 10 minutes. Afterwards, rub filberts with the cloth.

Fine Cooking - Gives two methods - toasting and blanching, plus the pros and cons of each method.
Toasting - 375F for 10 minutes. Wrap in a towel to call for 10 minutes. Rub vigorously.
Blanching - For 1/2 C filberts, use 1.5 C water and 2T baking soda. Boil 3 minutes. Cool a few filberts in cold water to see if the skins slip off. Boil longer as needed.

With all of this information, I designed a little experiment to see which method worked the best.

The methods:
1. Control: Boil in plain water for 3 minutes. Cool under cold running water. Peel.
2. Hazelnut Board Method: Roast 275F for 15 minutes and cool wrapped in a towel.
3. Fine Cooking Toasting Method: 375F for 10 minutes, cool wrapped in a towel.
4. Fine Cooking Blanching Method: Boil 3 minutes in 1.5 C water and 2T baking soda.

For each method, I used 1/2C (2.5 oz or 71 g). Total amount to roast 1 lb.

Method 1: Control
Boiled for 3 minutes. Cool under running water.

This method was time-consuming. The skins did peel off, but I ended peeling each filbert individually. Due to the handling, the many of the filberts tended to split in half which is fine since I will be chopping and sending the filberts through the food processor.

This was my first batch so I was still motivated with running my experiment. However, as the peeling continued, my thumb was starting to develop a sore spot from the rubbing/peeling. My manicured, white-collar hands just aren't used to such hard work... lol.

Unroasted skinned hazelnuts. Note the cooked layer around the edges of the nut. The nuts were damp and slightly tacky to the touch.

Method 2: Hazelnut Marketing Board - Roasting at 275F
Roasting at 275F, wrap in towel and cool 10 minutes. Note: I ended up cooling about 20 to 30 minutes since I was still peeling the filberts from Method 1.

While rubbing with the towel, you can hear the skin crackle and see the skin slough off.

Toasted Filberts.
About 60% of the nuts peeled cleanly. The other 40% were only partially skinned and rubbing didn't work on the stubborn ones as with the boiled. The filberts are dry and fragrant.

Method 3: Fine Cooking Toasting
Similar to Method 2, except 375F and 10 minutes. (No photos)
The skin was drier and cracked like dry paint. After cooling, the skin fell off a lot easier. However, only 60% to 65% were completely skinless which is the same as method 2.

Method 4: Fine Cooking Blanching
Blanching with baking soda. I was hesitant to do this step for fear that the baking soda would drastically change the flavor of the nuts. Also, my thumbs where sore from Method 1. Cleaning each filbert individually was getting old.

Much to my surprise, this turned out to be the easiest and quickest method of all. After 3 minutes of boiling and cooling under running water, the skins peeled off with just a squeeze.

One thing about the blanching/boiling method. This method is a two step method. First you skin and then you roast. The toasting/roasting method does both in one step.

Roasted blanch hazelnuts.
Roasted 375 for about 10 minutes.
The filberts towards the upper left corner were blanched with baking soda, while the filberts towards the lower right corner were boiled with only tap water.

As pointed out in the Fine Cooking article, blanching will soften the nuts. When roasted the nut will not have the crunch of the roasting method.

The Taste:
The taste of the roasted nuts seemed more flavorful and were crunchy. Reminiscent of a dry roasted peanut. The blanched nuts didn't seem as flavorful nor as crunchy. The flavor difference is probably not too much of a factor if you're mixing with other ingredients and using a larger quantity, but eating out of hand the roasted nuts tasted better.

Roasting the remainder:
To finish roasting the rest of the hazelnuts, I used the 375F method, roasting for 10 minutes. This batch turned out darker than the rest and on the verge of burning. My initial gut instinct was to stop at 7 minutes, but I roasted for the full 10 minutes. Even though the skins were dark brown, brittle and cracked, I estimate that only 60% of the nuts were completely skinless after rubbing with a towel.

The method I would use for the next time...
If I were to skin hazelnuts again, I would lean towards the roasting at 275F for 20 minutes. There was no noticeable difference (taste and skinning) between methods 2 and 3. However, I believe the slow roasting will help develop the flavor with a lower chance of burning. It gives a little more room for error, if you forget that you have them in the oven. Over-toasting will result in a burnt bitter flavor.

Experiment Completed
Time to run the experiment, skin and roast 1 lb of hazelnuts: 3 hours.
Geez! I think I am nuts!


Anonymous said...

Gosh... lol that was some experiment. You should have included one more result... you "thinking" you were nuts to "knowing." ;) wink

Eat4Fun said...

lol! I didn't think I was that obvious. Also, my psychiatrist told me after my last seesion that "I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this." :-P

Jana said...

Thanks for this experiment - after pounding 4 cups of filberts loose with hammers on our dining room floor, we're ready to toast them. I'm going for the 275ยบ recommendation, 20-30 minutes! Appreciate your input!