When a recipe calls for nuts, it usually says toasted nuts. It’s not just in baking but nuts for toppings, for salads and even for snacking. Why? Does it really make a lot of difference whether the nuts are toasted or not? Oh, yes, it does. And the difference lie in the texture, the aroma and the flavor. When nuts are toasted, they release their oil making them more fragrant. The process of toasting changes the texture by adding crisp to the crunch. And toasting heightens the flavor of nuts.
Don’t believe me? Try baking cookies with nuts in them. Divide the cookie dough in half; add toasted nuts to half and untoasted nuts to the other half. See which batch is better.
The lazy cook or baker will probably complain that toasting the nuts is just an additional step on top of all the other steps. But, hey, it doesn’t take a lot of work to toast nuts. And the extra effort more than compensates for the better flavor, texture and aroma of the dish.
Toasting nuts is easy, really. Very.
If a recipe calls for chopped toasted nuts, you can chop the nuts before or after toasting. Chopping them before toasting cuts down the toasting time BUT they will require closer supervision because they will burn faster than whole nuts.
If you’re toasting a small amount of nuts, say not more than a cup, you can do it on the stove top. Take a thick bottomed wok or frying pan (no, not a sauce pan or any deep pan because you do not want the steam to condense in the pan as that will make the nuts soggy) which should be wide enough so that the nuts are in a single layer. DO NOT add any oil. Place the nuts in the pan, set over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan often to make sure that the nuts toast evenly on all sides.
How do we know if the nuts have been sufficiently toasted? Different nuts will require different lengths of time to toast. Some nuts are smaller while some nuts are oilier so they will react to heat differently. The common denominator is that all nuts will change color and emit a nutty-earthy aroma during toasting. Sufficiently toasted nuts will also appear wet and glistening. That’s the oil that they’re releasing and the oil coats the surface. So, watch out for those three changes: color, aroma and the glistening appearance.
If you’re toasting a large amount of nuts, you can ensure even toasting better by using the oven. Preheat the oven to 400F. Take a baking tray and spread the nuts in it. Pop into the oven and let the nuts toast. Whole nuts will take about 10 minutes; chopped nuts will toast in considerably less time. There is no need to stir the nuts unless your oven has a history of uneven cooking.
And that’s how to toast nuts. And remember, toasted nuts taste and smell better, and they have a nicer mouth feel than untoasted nuts.