Ask Peter: Nut butters
I keep reading about the trendy raw food and vegan restaurants only using nut butters, creams and cheeses, not dairy. What sorts of nuts make the best butters? Can you substitute it willy- nilly in baking recipes that call for the dairy versions, or do they have quite different fat contents or textures?
Many thanks, Nicola.
I find it fascinating that something that’s been around for ages among a particular demographic, suddenly explodes into mainstream and everyone is wanting some of the action. Back in the early ‘80s when I was living in Melbourne, my hippy mates were extolling the virtues of nut butters and raw foods, wheatgrass juice and agave syrup. I’m not exactly sure why these delicious and/or healthy things never took off then, but I’m also unsure why they’ve suddenly become so in demand. It’s as though nut butters were only recently discovered in a remote jungle in the Andes and now we all want some (rather like quinoa).
Nut butters are rich in protein, fibre and essential fatty acids, but beware — all that oil they contain does pack some serious kilojoules! I was making peanut butter as a teenager using the family Kenwood mixer mincing attachment — we never got a food processor until much later. I’d toast the nuts and peel them, then mince them tirelessly until they were ground up and slightly like the stuff in the jar. To be honest, the stuff in the jar was better, but at least mine was home made.
When friends made their nut butters they stressed the importance of not overheating the nuts as this goes against the raw food diet policy. The problem you may face is that grinding nuts in a food processor for around 120 minutes — which is about how long it takes — will heat the nuts to quite a temperature as the friction created by rubbing/grinding them together causes them to heat up considerably. The other possible outcome is that the food processor you use may also get so hot its motor dies — which can happen more easily than you think.
If you’re less concerned about a “raw foods style’’ nut butter, then grind away. One piece of advice though would be to place your food processor in the fridge for an hour before you start, along with the nuts and the processor bowl, to cool it as much as possible before you start. As the nuts are ground, you may, from time to time, want to put it all back in the fridge to cool. I certainly don’t want to get any emails accusing me of blowing up your kit!
Place 2 cups of raw nuts in the food processor. Almonds, macadamias, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans — you can pretty much use any nut. If you use organic nuts you’re going to have a more healthy finished butter, but it’s up to you. If you don’t care too much about “raw foods’’ then you can toast the nuts until pale golden for more flavour, but toast them at a max temperature in the oven at 150C then cool in the fridge before grinding. Grind for anywhere from 8-10 minutes, wiping down the side of the processor bowl from time to time.
It may look like nothing will happen, but eventually it will begin to form a paste and then a “butter’’ just like smooth peanut butter. At this point you can add agave syrup or honey to it, or even ground cardamom, a pinch of saffron, allspice or similar. Keep it in the fridge in a sealed container and there you have it.
Mix 1 part of this with 2 parts strained plain yoghurt and you have a lovely dip for crudites. Mix some tahini, olive oil, crushed garlic and pomegranate molasses into this dip and you have a lovely thick dressing for steamed fish or roast chicken. Mix some of the butter with mascarpone and use it to pipe inside fairy cakes or sweet muffins for a lovely sticky top of the mouth feeling.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.