Re-inventing the (pea)nut butter of your sticky fingered childhood with a sumptuous almond adaptation…

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I love to cook. When I’m tense or fretful, time spent in my tiny, cobalt-tiled kitchen soothes me and when I see something that instantly makes me want to run out & get the necessary ingredients, it excites me. Be it lazy weekend cookbook browsing or throwing together something in a post-work pan on a Monday evening, well, exhausted I may be when I begin but after 10 minutes of slicing or sauteing or swirling, I can feel my shoulders relax and the cares of the day slip away into the realm of un-importance.

One of the things I get the most pleasure from is finding a recipe that instantly piques my interest so to do just that and then to combine it with writing? Well, that’s altogether splendid.

Food 52 is a website and online community that I would move into tomorrow if I could. Yup. I’d pack my little virtual suitcase with aprons and wooden spoons, my pasta maker, my champagne saucers and an avocado or two because, well just because.

Their belief that ‘how you eat is how you live’ translates into everything they publish, illustrate and talk about and I absolutely adore it. They make food and the exploration of it seem accessible and relate-able, lovely to look at and luscious to taste, so when they were recently on the lookout for testers for new recipes with coconut, I absolutely leapt at the chance and, not having attempted it before, the opportunity to try making my own nut butter – almond with toasted coconut to be specific – was an absolute winner.

A warning about the outcome of this recipe from Emily of www.nourishing-matters.com – it’s a seriously grown up take on the peanut butter you think you know. Velvety, decadent & luxurious, it tastes like it should be the result of hours spent toiling in the kitchen a la Betty Draper but in reality, you’ll need nothing more than the ability to hit ‘go’ on your food processor, leaving plenty of time to daydream about an elegant plate of creamy, nourishing, butter slathered toast or a bowlful of hot milky porridge, the butter spooned on top.

INGREDIENTS (makes a decent cereal b0wl sized portion)

  • 2 cups/336g of raw almonds (i.e. not roasted or salted)
  • 1 cup/60g unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 pinches sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons honey (or maple syrup if vegan)

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METHOD

  • Never having done it before, I was curious about blanching almonds – removing their skins – namely, how difficult it was and how long it would take…the answer to both questions is not very. You could absolutely buy pre-skinned almonds and if you do then ignore this step but if you wanted to try doing it yourself here’s how:
    • Fill a pan with enough water for your almonds to fit in and bring it to the boil.
    • Add the almonds to the water and leave them for precisely 1 minute – if the addition of your almonds causes the water temperature to drop and stop boiling, do not worry! Do not leave them in there for longer i.e. thinking you have to bring it up the boil again which could take several minutes; the temperature of the water will be absolutely hot enough that 1 minute is enough time to get the job of loosening the skins done.
    • Drain your almonds in a sieve and rinse with cold water to stop them from cooking.
    • Tip them onto a plate lined with several pieces of kitchen roll on it & blot them as much as possible – you will be able to see the skins looking slightly shrivelled and loose on the nut.
    • Taking each almond in your hand, gently squeeze it so that the nut pops out; I found the easiest & quickest way of doing this was to take a nut in my right hand with the fat, rounded end between my thumb & first two finger tips with the pointed end facing away from my hand, lightly squeeze and voila, the nut will literally shoot out of the skin; be careful with using too much force or you will find yourself chasing skinned almonds across the kitchen…!
    • Allow the blanched nuts to dry completely and then use however your recipe dictates…see? Super easy, super quick.

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  • Pre-heat your oven to 400/200 degrees/gas mark 6 and place a shelf in the centre.
  • Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking tray and spread out your almonds so they lie flat in a single layer.

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  • Place the baking tray in the oven and toast for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden brown; mine took a couple of extra minutes so don’t be afraid if you tiptoe towards 12 minutes or so roasting time in the oven, just be sure not to forget them.

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  • When they’re done, remove them from the baking sheet so they don’t carry on toasting and replace them with the coconut; you can use the same parchment paper so don’t worry about cutting a new sheet…this is a no fuss recipe you’ll be delighted to hear!

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  • The coconut will toast much quicker than the almonds so keep an eye on it; you want to let it have around 3 minutes in the oven but pull the tray out if you’re done sooner than that as you want it lightly golden and no darker.

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  • As soon as the coconut is done, tip it and the almonds into the bowl of your food processor.
  • Add the sea salt and pulse a few times to start getting everything mixed.

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  • You will be able to see the changes in texture quite quickly and you will have to stop the machine every couple of minutes so that you can scrape the sides of the bowl and make sure there are no large lumps lurking.

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  • The original recipe said I would be pulsing for 5-7 minutes in order to get the nut butter consistency; in actual fact I had it on a low but steady setting for roughly 15 minutes so don’t be alarmed if you find that after 5, 7 or even 10 minutes, your mixture looks more like a dry, crumbly scone mixture than anything resembling nut butter.
  • As I’d never made nut butter before, I didn’t really know what the right consistency was but if you just remember that beloved jar of peanut butter, the one that will never lose place of honour on your shelf or in your heart and the thick but loose but shiny texture of it’s contents, you’ll be headed down the right path. Plus, and I know this is one of the most unhelpful things a cook can say, when you get ‘it’, you’ll absolutely know.

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  • When it starts to look like the above picture, add the honey/syrup and pulse again to make sure it is well incorporated.

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The absolute beauty of this butter is that it doesn’t have to be eaten in its entirety on the day you make it; it keeps nicely in the fridge from where you can simply take it and reheat it for approximately a minute until it becomes liquid once again. Now if you feel that actually, you would like to eat the whole bowl, scraping the sides clean with your spoon/hands/tongue, then you go ahead – who am I to deny you that scrumptious pleasure? And, unlike your childhood when peanut butter was rationed by your parents, nowadays you’re big enough and beautiful enough to know when to draw the line which, if you’re anything like me, is usually about 20 minutes after that line has all but disappeared from view.

If however, you feel that you might like this little bowl to stretch farther than one indigestion-inducing night then here are a couple of suggestions for quick and simple, not to mention gorgeous, ways of enjoying your very own proudly produced butter…

  • Saute some halved fresh cherries and quartered fresh apricots in a little unsalted  butter in a shallow pan for approximately 5-6 minutes until they start softening.

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  • Slather your butter – yes slather, this is not something to be spread with the stingy touch of a food miser – onto fresh bread & pile your buttery slick fruit on top; this is a sweet but slightly savoury combination that you’ll be sad to finish but more than ready to repeat.

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  • Alternatively, make yourself a big comforting bowl of porridge – I love the giant old fashioned oats as their texture is so much nicer than those tiny, flat, slightly sad ones – and top it with a dollop of nut butter, some more of that coconut, chopped up fruit and a swizzle stick of honey; this really is the ultimate warming, soothing & restoring breakfast that also happens to be perfect in the evening after a long day at work when they thought of cooking is simply all too much.

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If you’ve often stared at enamel lidded jars of nut butter in your local store or market place and wondered if maybe you could make your own, know this: you absolutely could and you absolutely can and you absolutely should. Pretty much any nut, packed with their beautifying nutrients and hair-glossing-skin-plumping benefits will work but this is a lovely little number to start your journey with. And once you make the first batch, you won’t be able to stop imagining where the next one will take you…I’m thinking macadamia with a cacao swirl or maybe cashews on their own, raw, plain, elegant and delicious.

Let me know where your dream nutty buttery concocting takes you…

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