Expand your baking repertoire with the use of nuts and seeds

September 5, 2018

Baking with nuts and seeds is one of life’s humble delights.

While not often the main ingredient, their benefits are threefold, delivering a crunchy texture, an attractive appearance and a nutritional boost.

They must be treated with some respect, however. Their great flavors are the result of the oils within, which can be compromised by poor storage, becoming “off,” even rancid, if stored with too much exposure to air and warmth, or for too long a time.

Storage tips often recommend keeping nuts and seeds in cool, dry places. But why tempt unreliable conditions, especially when there’s an easy solution?

Simply keep them in the freezer.

That solid, unvarying cold keeps the oils stable. Nuts and seeds should stay fresh for up to a year, which is a boon for those who get a good deal on bulk purchases.

They still need to be kept in sturdy, airtight containers, or double-bagged in freezer bags. But you can be assured that they can be relied upon for crunch, looks and nutrition at a moment’s notice.

Now, what may seem a brief contradiction: Before you use your super-chilled nuts and seeds, heat them up.

This isn’t necessarily because they’re emerging from the freezer. It’s a well-known kitchen technique to briefly toast nuts and seeds to activate those flavorful oils.

In addition to turning up the volume on flavor, a little heat makes them crisper and, especially if the nuts will be used as a garnish, can give them an attractive golden tinge.

You can toast nuts and seeds in three ways:

In the oven: Spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 325-degree oven for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the type and amount of nuts, stirring often, until they are aromatic.

In the microwave: Spread them on a microwave-safe plate and microwave them on high in 1-minute stints for 2 to 4 minutes until fragrant, stirring at each minute.

On the stovetop: Place nuts or seeds in a dry skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring often and watching that they don’t scorch. This may take less than 2 minutes.

The following recipe for rye crackers is a showcase for nuts and seeds, as well as dried fruit. These crackers adapt well to personal tastes, so play with different combinations of ingredients, while keeping the proportions as directed.

These crackers are terrific with soft cheeses and salty meats, but also are a wonderful solo nibble.

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