Nuts and Seeds
Nut pastes and butters are used widely in the baking and pastry industry. Pastes are generally products that are finely ground, and contain sugar and other ingredients. Nut butters are produced using primarily the nuts and nut oils, sometimes with sugar and emulsifiers added.
Almond paste is a fine-ground mixture of half almond and half sugar, or two parts almonds and one part sugar. One type of almond paste is called marzipan. Marzipan is made by an addition of icing sugar, glucose syrup, or egg whites. It is believed that marzipan dates back to AD 24.
At one time, bakers made their own paste, which is a long, tedious job. Since special machines are required to make almond paste economically, it is produced today mainly in large factories.
The paste-making process consists of these steps:
- The almonds are first blanched and then soaked in cold water.
- The almonds are chopped and mixed with the sugar.
- The mixture is ground through a special cylinder-roller machine.
- The creamy mixture is boiled, with more sugar, to dissolve the sugar crystals. The sugar and almonds bind together to form a solid paste. The cooking also sterilizes the almond paste.
Almond paste is usually sold in an airtight container and should be kept in a cool place and properly over-wrapped. If refrigerated, it needs to be protected from humidity. Almond paste may be used for fancy cakes, to mask cakes, and in fillings and fancy cookies. It is considered the most versatile and decorative medium of all.
Working with almond paste requires extreme cleanliness in all parts of production, especially when hand modelling. When modelling, use icing sugar or cornstarch only. Keep free of flour at all times.
Kernel paste can serve as a substitute for almond paste. It is made from apricot kernels and peanuts and very few almonds — and therefore it is less expensive than almond paste.
Nougat paste, also called hazelnut paste, is made with the finest ingredients, such as hazelnuts and almonds, sugar and vegetable fats, cocoa powder and skim milk powder. Nougat paste is used in butter icing and cookies.
Peanut butter is widely used in cookies and other baking, such as fillings and bars. Natural peanut butter contains only peanuts and peanut oil, and may have a small amount of salt added, while processed peanut butters also contain sugar and emulsifiers. Due to allergy concerns, peanut products must always be labelled and handled with care.