Last spring I was in the fortuitous position of having a completely available ready-to-plant 4 x 4 foot raised garden box in the front yard. CFO removed a rotted tree stump that had been cut down year’s prior. The box was supposed to be decorative. We had it, along with two other tree boxes and a retaining wall, rebuilt with stamped concrete retaining wall blocks the previous fall. But let’s just stop pretending: the most “decorative” I get with landscaping is buying daffodil bulbs. Those bulbs are still in the garage in a paper sack two years later (but I swear this spring is the season!).
So, of course I knew that I would be planting something edible and hopefully delicious. For the longest time I planned on planting an American hazelnut tree. I was so on-board with this, I imagined hazelnut tortes and hazelnut-cherry crisps and hazelnut butter and the most amazing hazelnut cake that was served to CFO and I for breakfast in Italy on our honeymoon. Breakfast cake is the most underappreciated and underutilized kind of breakfast. It should be a Sunday requirement.
Well, long story short, my hazelnut tree never transpired after a very terse but eye-opening comment from CFO: “what about the squirrel?” Crushing, deflating, devastating realization…what ABOUT the squirrel? The squirrel, our only squirrel, would find my hazelnut tree and devour every hazelnut he can stuff into his cheeks, invite friends over for a summer barbeque, meet a lady squirrel from across the street, fall in love, get married, move in across from the hazelnut tree, start a family, the kids grow up and head to squirrel college to learn to be hazelnut collectors, and the cycle would continue. The life of my hazelnut tree was already over before it began. I planted 16 asparagus crowns instead and now my hazelnuts are exclusively purchased.
On the subject of nuts, CFO is somewhat of a nut enthusiast. In fact, he eats almonds daily. He claims it’s for health benefits, in the same way I make the claim for drinking wine. I think we both have a point. I started making almond butter on a whim because CFO loves it on toast and it looked easy. As it turns out, it is. I have not gone back to buying conventional almond butter since, and CFO is one happy breakfaster in the mornings. One of the benefits of making your own is that you don’t have to break two wooden spoons trying to stir the oil back into the solids, because you put it straight away into the fridge to keep it from separating.
Thinking back to my hazelnut obsession, I thought, what about hazelnut butter? I mean, if Nutella has taught us anything, it’s that hazelnuts SHOULD be in butter form. Am I right?, or am I right? The funny thing is, you can’t exactly buy a jar of hazelnut butter off the grocery store shelf. At least, not the kind of hazelnut butter that I choose to bring home to the family. Nutella is the kind of nut butter spread that you can have a wild night out on the town and make exciting mistakes with, but its full of hydrogenated oil and added sugar and there just isn’t a future there. I need a nut butter that is pure: no added oils or sugars or salt, as much as possible. That’s the kind of nut butter you can introduce to the parents, and form a lasting stable relationship. The best price for unadulterated hazelnut butter I could find on amazon.com was $13.99 for a 16 oz. jar, plus shipping. At that price, I think I will stick to danger and questionable decision-making of processed spreads. Fortunately, my local food Paradise (aka massive employee-owned grocery store), has hazelnuts for $3.79 for 8 oz, or $7.58 per 16 oz. At that price, I think we have a winner.
For this recipe, you must must must have a large food processor. A blender will not work, and even with your food processor the motor will be working hard.
Dump the 16 oz of nuts into the bowl, fitted with a blade attachment. I happen to like the taste of raw nuts, but feel free to toast the nuts first in dry frying pan on the stovetop on low-medium heat or in the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes until browed. I recommend this step if you want to peel the nuts first (completely optional).
Begin by running the motor to grind the nuts into a fine powder.
Nope, don’t stop there.
Continue to grind until the nuts begin to clump. At this point we are almost 20 minutes in. But we are not done.
When the motor starts to whine (literally, mine whines), stop and break up the clumps. Keep going!
Now the bowl is really heating up. I mean it. It will start to feel hot to touch. Remove the vent and let some heat escape, but we aren’t done yet.
Now we are 40 minutes into the process. As you can see, the paste is showing some oil. Nut butter is a kind of colloidal suspension, and what we are going for is for the solid nut meat to be suspended in the nut oil. So with that in mind, keep that motor moving!
Hey look at that! Are we done? Nooo! Keep going, pay attention to the anger and heat from your food processor and give it a break when it needs it.
Finally, after about an hour, you will see a glossy, light concoction. Give it a taste, you should detect almost no gritty texture, but a smooth, buttery, distinctively hazelnutty flavor.
A-maz-ing and no hazelnut tree required! Just pour into a 16 oz glass jar, cap, and place into the fridge. Hazelnuts are mostly monounsaturated fats and so the butter will not solidify in the fridge like peanut butter and cashew butter, and will be immensely spreadable and it will not separate as long as you keep it in the cold.
For those of you with less exotic taste buds, almond butter (or peanut or any nut butter) is made in the same manner with significant cost savings. Non-oil or sugar-added almond butter can be purchased from the local Paradise for $10.29 for 16 oz. and the same amount of raw almonds can be purchased for $5.89. I think you get my point.
- 16 oz nuts of choice
- Put nuts into blade-fitted food processor
- Process to fine grind
- Keep processing, stopping to scrape bowl when nut paste clumps, continuing for 45- 60 minutes until oil surfaces and mixture resembles peanut butter consistency
- Pour or scrape into glass jar, keep in refrigerator