Home Grown Chef: Hazelnuts
written by Thor Erickson | photos by Kyra Oellig
I’ll admit it—of all nuts, hazelnuts are my favorite. I love the aroma when they are roasting. They add complexity to sweet and savory dishes, raising the flavor and texture to a new level. I have prepared them many ways—ground into hazelnut butter, as a stuffing for wild pheasant, hazelnut brittle. I’ve even pickled them. I adore them.
But, it hasn’t always been this way. When I first met the hazelnut, we had a rocky start.
I didn’t know how to treat them right and, in return, they became distant and unresponsive. I stuck with it, and after a lot of work, they came out of their shells.
Ninety-nine percent of the hazelnuts grown in the United States are grown in the Willamette Valley. The hazelnut officially became the Oregon state nut in 1889.
Filberts and hazelnuts are closely related and identical in taste and texture. The filbert’s shell is twice as long as it is round, while the hazelnut is more spherical. Some Oregon hazelnut farmers speculate the name filbert originated with the term “full beard,” used to describe the hearty husk covering the nutshell. Europeans claim they are named after the French saint Philbert.
You can purchase raw, shelled hazelnuts. You will find them in the freezer section, and you should store them that way—frozen. Raw nuts have wonderful oils that if exposed to temperature fluctuations can go rancid.
To get the best behavior and flavor out of hazelnuts, roast them. This will activate their oils and make the nuts more alive. Roasting them also blisters the dark brown skin on the outside of the nuts, allowing it to be peeled off. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread frozen nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until you see the skin start to blister and flake off. Don’t let them burn! While the nuts are still warm, working in batches, pick them up in a clean kitchen towel. Gently rub them together inside the towel as if you are washing your hands. The thin brown membrane will fall away, exposing the toasted nut.
What now? Your hazelnuts are ready to use. You can eat them all on the spot, put them back in the freezer for later use or include them in a savory recipe or a dessert. I like to use them in my version of the popular chocolate hazelnut spread that rhymes with “umbrella.”
Oregon Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
1 2/3 cup hazelnuts
1 3/4 cup whole milk
7/8 cup powdered whole milk
3 tablespoons honey pinch of salt
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet, and toast in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring a few times until the hazelnuts are browned.
While the nuts are roasting, warm the whole milk and powdered milk in a small saucepan with the honey and salt until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat.
Melt the chocolates together until smooth by setting them in a clean, dry bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Alternatively, place chocolates in a bowl and melt them in a microwave oven.
Once the nuts are well-toasted, remove from oven and use a spatula to place the warm hazelnuts in a clean towel. Rub them vigorously inside the towel to remove loose skins. They don’t need to be pristine, just rub off as much as possible.
In a food processor, grind the warm nuts until fine.
Add the melted chocolate and continue mixing in the food processor, scraping down the sides of the work bowl if necessary.
Once the mixture is smooth, add the warm milk mixture and combine.
Transfer the mixture into two, 8-ounce jars and refrigerate until ready to use.