Ask Peter: Cooking with nut butters
A friend recently made a delicious chocolate cake that was filled and iced with an icing using smooth peanut butter — it was divine, like eating chocolate-coated peanuts. I have been thinking that you can probably use nut butters to easily create all sorts of fixings— sweet and savoury — and I wondered whether you might have some nice ideas for us?
I do have some jars of almond and cashew butter in the fridge thanks to my daughter, who thought it was her new health product before realising it was very calorific, and I always have peanut butter in the cupboard.
In the same way that you use nuts in all sorts of foods— as added texture in a mixed salad (whether it be pecan nuts tossed with avocado and steamed chicken, or peanuts in a Thai beef salad), as an ingredient in a walnut tart or as a stuffing for a rolled loin of pork, you can also use nut butters — which are in fact nuts that are ground to a paste.
In fact I touched on this very topic back in June 2014, where I wrote about making your own (you can read the feature on bite.co.nz). It involved placing your food processor in the fridge to prevent it overheating, and I wonder how many of you did in fact do that?
When mixing nut butters into anything else, it’s always best to have your butters at room temperature. And even though tahini isn’t made from nuts (it’s made from ground sesame seeds) it’s also best to have this at room temperature.
If I were making a chocolate truffle from a nut butter I’d warm a few tablespoons of it in half a cup of cream over a gentle heat — possibly even a double boiler on low heat. Once the nut butter was dispersed through the cream I’d then take it off the heat and mix in ¾ cup grated or chopped chocolate or chocolate buttons and mix it together until the chocolate was dissolved. Leave it to set then roll into balls and dust with cocoa.
To make a lovely chocolate ganache filling, do exactly the same thing but add extra cream so it never actually sets solid. This will depend on the fat content of your cream (more fat and the thicker it will set) and also the chocolate you use, as milk chocolate will set slightly softer than 100 per cent chocolate.
If you’re making a nut custard to fill a doughnut or eclair, mix a little of the warm custard into the nut butter to loosen it before mixing into the custard and stirring thoroughly. Likewise if you’d like to flavour mascarpone or cream cheese with nut butter, mix a little of the cream into the butter then mix the loosened butter into the cream.
A lovely stuffing for pork belly is a combination of 1 cup peanut or cashew butter, ½ cup roasted chopped nuts, 2 Tbsp grated ginger, 6 cloves sliced garlic, and a herb of your liking — sage, oregano or thyme. For a rolled loin of lamb mix ½ cup almond butter with 1 Tbsp chopped rosemary and 3 cloves chopped garlic sauteed in 1 Tbsp butter until golden. Add a handful of torn mint leaves and a pinch of chilli flakes and you won’t regret the effort.
For a tasty salad dressing to toss through roast chunks of kumara and thickly sliced roast fennel and carrots, mix 3 Tbsp chunky peanut butter with ½ cup creme fraiche and the zest and juice of 1 lime until emulsified — add a little water if too thick. Mix in ½ bunch coriander, coarsely shredded, and half a red chilli, finely chopped. Toss it through the warm roast vegetables and tell me it isn’t delicious!
Find out how to make your own nut butter here
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 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.