Almonds – a great ingredient for cooking or baking

Welcome to a new year of cooking and baking and eating! This month I will be teaching a class on Spanish Tapas (if that sounds fun, contact me for more info.) The people who have engaged me wanted at least one sweet bite. I will be making a Spanish Flourless Almond Cookie. This particular recipe called for using blanched, slivered almonds and grinding them (with other ingredients) in your food processor.  I wondered why they did not just call for almond flour or almond meal. As I thought about this, I decided a discussion of almonds would make a great Cooking Tip to start out this new year.

California is the home to about 80% of the almonds produced globally. Those orchards grow about 50 different varieties although according to the Almond Board of California, 95% of the production is limited to only 12 varieties. When you buy almonds, the package will most likely not list the variety of almond. What the consumer will be looking for is the following:

  • Whole almonds – almonds in their whole state
  • Sliced almonds – almonds that have been thinly sliced before packaging
  • Slivered almonds – almonds that have been cut into “slivers”
  • Natural almonds – almonds that still have their skins intact
  • Blanched almonds – almonds that have had their skins removed
  • Almond flour
  • Almond meal

It may be different in your supermarket but where I normally shop, the whole almonds are always “natural” or “raw”, not blanched. This is also true for sliced almonds whereas slivered are more likely to be blanched. Of course, if you shop online, you will be able to find each of the kinds of almonds in raw or blanched.

Which kind you use will depend on what your recipe calls for. Do you want the almonds whole or in pieces? You can easily chop whole almonds into pieces but it would be much for difficult to get the thin slices or slivered shapes in your home kitchen.

Do you want the color and texture of the almond skin? If so, go with raw almonds. If not, you need blanched almonds. In my area, if I want blanched almonds, I have two choices. One, I can buy slivered almonds, which are normally blanched. Or, I can buy raw almonds and remove their skins myself. To do this, place the almonds in a bowl. Pour in boiling water to cover the almonds. Let the almonds sit for no longer than 1 minute to preserve their crispness. Drain the almonds and rinse under cold water. Pat the almonds dry. Pinch one end of the almonds and they will slip out of their skin. One note, be sure your almonds have not been roasted or this process will not easily work.

Let’s turn now to ground almond products. In the stores, you will most likely find either or both almond flour or almond meal. Labeling of these products is not regulated but almond four is typically made from blanched nuts, while almond meal is most often ground from skin-on nuts. Also, flour is typically ground finer than meal. It is not always straightforward, though, as the store brand at my supermarket labels this product as “Almond Meal Flour”. So, which is it? The description says it is made from blanched almonds and is ground finely. I would think this would be more similar to almond flour rather than meal.

These products are somewhat pricey. At my store they range from $7 to $10 per pound. As with many items, you can make your own. If you want the light color of blanched almonds, you will either have to buy these or go through the process described above to remove the skins. After this process, though, you will want them very dry before grinding. To do this, preheat the oven to 350°. Spread them out on a baking sheet and carefully roast in the oven until they are quite dry, probably about 10 to 15 minutes. You may even turn off the oven and let them sit there all night to dry out even more. When the almonds are toasted and quite dry, it is time to grind them.

Most frequently, instructions will recommend a food processor. If you do this, do not fill the bowl more than half-full. Pulse them rather than turn the processor on fully. You do not want to end up with almond butter. This method works fine but the resulting product will not be as fine as almond flour you buy. It will be more on the side of almond meal. Feel free to use a sieve to remove the large pieces, which may be pulsed again.

Others say that the food processor does not work as well as other methods to get a fine, airy product.  Some recommend a nut grater, which looks similar to a hand-cranked cheese grater. After feeding the nuts into the hopper and cranking the handle, a fine-textured nut flour is produced. Since I would suspect most of us do not own one of these, a cheese grater may be used. Use the smallest blade with cold, but not frozen, almonds. Still others recommend either a spice grinder or a blender over the food processor.

Besides the limitation of home equipment, there may be another reason why your home-ground almond flour is not as fine and silky as that you purchase. According to some sources, the commercial almond meal undergoes removal of oils, also called de-fatted. This is not a step we can do in our home kitchens. This is not universal, though. I contacted Bob’s Red Mill, and they responded that they do not defat their almonds.

Almonds have a long shelf life if stored correctly. They should be place in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry place. Other storage tips include avoiding exposure to strong aromas or direct sunlight. For longer term storage, the freezer may be used. Be especially careful with your blanched almonds or ground products.

Enjoy a new year of cooking and baking. I’m sure almonds, in whatever form, will be a part of those endeavors!