With their rich flavor and irresistible crunch, toasted nuts are hard to beat. Heat brings out the natural oils in nuts, which emphasizes their nuttiness, Cara Tannenbaum, assistant dean of students at New York's Institute of Culinary Education, explains. It also makes them crispier, Andrea Tutunjian, the school's director of baking, says.
Freshly toasted nuts will always be more crisp and flavorful, says Ana Sortun, partner-owner of Oleana, Sofra and Sarma in Massachusetts, but toasting ahead is convenient, and nuts will keep for up to a few months in a dark, cool place. Pastry chef Megan Garrelts of Kansas City's Bluestem recommends cooling nuts completely before storing, as warmth creates condensation, which makes nuts soggy.
Many recipes call for toasting nuts, but there are exceptions. Avoid double toasting, which could overcook or even burn nuts, Garrelts warns. For instance, when nuts are folded into brownies or cookies, they toast in the baking process, so it's better to use them raw.
Technique: In the Oven
There are two main arguments for toasting nuts in the oven: It's more hands-off than stovetop toasting, and the heat is steady. Tannenbaum and Tutunjian, coauthors of In a Nutshell, advise toasting nuts in one even layer on a rimmed baking sheet in the middle of a 350-degree oven. Once or twice, rotate and shake the baking sheet to promote even browning. This is especially important in ovens with hot spots or uneven heat, Sortun says.
In the oven, nuts are "out of sight, out of mind," Tannenbaum says, so set a timer. Every nut toasts a little differently, but Garrelts thinks eight minutes is a good estimate. Smaller nuts and those with a higher fat content, such as macadamia and pine nuts, toast faster, Tutunjian says.
Nuts start to smell and turn golden when ready, Sortun says. How much color they develop is up to you, but darker nuts can be bitter. Consistent color is the goal, as dark spots typically indicate uneven heat, Karen Hatfield of Los Angeles's Odys + Penelope and The Sycamore Kitchen, says. If you're unsure, Hatfield recommends a taste test or cutting into the nuts, which should be evenly golden all the way through. Cool nuts on the baking sheet, unless they're overdone, in which case get them off the pan immediately to keep them from cooking further, Sortun says.
Technique: On the Stove
Stovetop toasting is more labor intensive and requires constant attention, but it's a good alternative when you don't want to turn on the oven or wait for it to preheat, Hatfield. It's also slightly faster, Tannenbaum notes. On the stove, the heat is stronger and more direct, so it's easier to burn nuts and harder to toast them evenly. Tutunjian recommends using a heavy-bottomed pan and stirring or tossing the nuts constantly. Aside from being extra cautious, follow the same guidelines as above for oven toasting.
Bonus Points: Fat Is Flavor
Most toasting is done dry, but some chefs add a little butter or oil, whether in the oven or on the stove. Hatfield finds that the extra fat elevates the flavor of the nuts, helps them toast more evenly and prevents burning. And according to Sortun, the fat makes nuts a little sticky, which comes in handy if you plan to season them with salt, pepper, herbs or spices.
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