Hazelnuts' mild, sweet flavor complements chocolate and other sweet, fruity flavors.
Cookies provide the ideal bakery food application to incorporate nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios.
Nuts improve the cosmetic and functional appeal of bakery foods. These tasty morsels also boost bakery foods' health properties.
Almonds also provide a rich source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, niacin, and riboflavin.
Nuts provide the ideal formulation tool for high-volume bakers who want to add appeal to their bakery foods. These delicious ingredients accomplish many tasks in baking, from enhancing the visual appeal of muffins to boosting the price points of breads and rolls.
Nuts accomplish these tasks with countless varieties and options. Nuts come from many different plant families and are classified as either tree nuts or peanuts. Tree nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts, are a fruit in a hard shell that grows on trees. Peanuts are a member of the legume family, and are grown underground.
Nuts have been used in the baking industry for ages to improve the taste and appearance of bakery foods. Today, these ingredients also are used to improve the health attributes of bakery foods. This one-two punch provides enough persuasion for bakers to incorporate nuts into their formulas.
Heart healthful nuts
In 2003, Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim promoting the relation-ship between nut consumption and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The claim states "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ozs. per day of most nuts [such as name of specific nut] as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." The health claim applies to almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts. Bakery foods must contain at least 11 grams of whole or chopped nuts per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) to qualify for the health claim. Additional restrictions per RACC include less than 13 grams of total fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 60 mgs of cholesterol and 480 mgs of sodium. Bakery foods bearing this claim also must meet the definition of a low saturated fat food and a low cholesterol food.
These guidelines and restrictions prohibit many bakers from pursuing the health claim for bakery foods that contain nuts. However, the publicity this claim garnered, plus general publicity about nuts' healthful attributes, provides ample opportunities for bakers to capitalize on nuts' healthful benefits.
All nuts are good sources of healthful unsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, and contain other beneficial nutrients such as vitamin E, fiber, selenium, copper, magnesium, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Almonds are grown in Turkey, Iran, Spain, Italy and central California, which has a Mediterranean-like climate. Almonds are the most widely grown tree nut and come in a variety of forms: shelled, chopped, slivered, sliced, roasted and blanched. Almonds' nutritional composition consists of significant amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
Almonds' total fat is more than 90% mono-or polyunsaturated "good-foryou" fats. The monounsaturated fat is primarily oleic acid, which is the same type of fatty acid found in olive oil. Oleic acid helps lower total blood cholesterol and maintain HDL levels, which promotes good cardiovascular health.
Almonds also provide a rich source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, niacin and riboflavin. "In fact, a 1-oz. serving of almonds (20 to 25 almonds) supplies as much calcium as one-quarter cup of milk," one almond supplier says.
Almonds offer bakers an ideal formulation tool because they come in many varieties, making them a versatile ingredient that is used in muffins, breads and sweet goods.
"Almonds can be cut to a variety of size specifications that contribute textural contrast and flavor to baked goods," one almond supplier says. "While dices can be used in a muffin mix, thin slices would be more suited to cake or pastry toppings. The nonpareil variety is the No. 1 variety requested due to its larger size and lighter colored skin."
Besides chopped or whole, these nuts can be blanched. Blanching removes almonds' skins by boiling the nuts in water for several minutes. After the blanching process, the nuts possess a glossy, smooth, white exterior; subtle tastes; and enhanced appearances. These nuts provide stark color contrast when used as a topping for dark-colored cakes.
Almonds also transform ordinary bakery foods into value-added products. Almond meal, prepared from finely ground blanched almonds, offers a partial substitute for white flour to create low-carbohydrate products. Bakers also use almond meal to create gluten-free products.
"Almond meal can easily replace 30% of flour weight, although at this level some cake fluffiness is lost," one almond supplier says. "Almond meal also replaces added fat, acts as a binder for ingredients, and adds body and flavor in cake and Danish fillings."
Almonds also are used to make marzipan, which is a sweet, pliable paste made from blanched ground almonds, sugar and water (glycerin optional). Marzipan is used as a filling in croissants, macaroons, cake frostings and countless other products.
Walnuts are grown throughout the world, from the Mediterranean to Eastern China. The English walnut, which is mainly grown in California, is the most popular variety in America. This extremely nutritious nut, which resembles the human brain in shape, has been used in foods since ancient times.
Walnuts are available year-round, and are naturally low in sodium, good sources of fiber and protein, and contain important vitamins and minerals such as thiamin, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium.
Walnuts also contain a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids, a healthful fat also found in flaxseeds and fish oils. "Omega-3s have been found in clinical studies to help lower overall cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, fight arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, and relieve depression," one walnut supplier says. "In addition, current research indicates that walnuts, because of their omega-3 content, may play a role in reducing the risk of type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease."
Although most people associate walnuts with brownies and cookies, this ingredient also is ideal in strudels, pie fillings and muffins. "Walnuts are semi-sweet with a distinctive crunch that adds an extra taste and texture to a wide variety of baked goods," one walnut supplier says. "While their principle complementary flavor is chocolate, other sweet, fruity flavors such as orange, berry, raisin and apricot also work well to create a well-rounded taste profile."
In standard-size cookies, one nut supplier says small to medium walnut pieces generally are used, while larger pieces provide gourmet cookies with additional appeal.
Whatever the size, bakers should purchase a top fancy grade, one nut supplier says, to reduce nuts' bitterness. "For items such as sticky buns, using a lower grade walnut will not have much flavor impact because it is used as an inclusion and the predominant flavor will come from the sugar and honey," the nut supplier says.
All nuts should be stored in cool, dry conditions and away from strong odors, which nuts can absorb. The ideal refrigerated storage conditions for walnuts are 32°F to 38°F, with a 55% to 65% relative humidity. Under these conditions, walnuts can be stored for as long as 18 months.
Although hazelnut flavors have been turning up in upscale flavored coffees and chocolates for years, these nuts, also known as filberts, make an equally tasty impact on a variety of bakery foods. Hazelnuts are roasted, sliced, diced or processed into butter, paste or meal. Hazelnut butter is prepared by grinding 100% hazelnuts, whereas the paste has added sugar. In the United States, Oregon produces 99% of the crop and Washington produces the remaining 1%. However, this accounts for about 4% of the world's production. Hazelnuts mostly are grown in Turkey, Italy and Spain.
Hazelnuts provide bakers with rich source of nutrients. A 1-oz. of hazelnuts contains 75% recommended daily intake (RDI) vitamin E and 31% of the RDI of vitamin B6. Hazelnuts also are a source of protein, iron, calcium, and dietary fiber, and have a fatty acid composition similar to olive oil.
The mild, sweet flavor of hazelnuts is compatible with an array of flavors, making hazelnuts ideal additions to cookie, pastry, coffee cake and other dessert formulations. "For bakery applications where color is important, hazelnuts' brown skins can be removed by a mild blanching process," one hazelnut supplier says. "The roasting process also helps improve the flavor of the nut considerably."
Similar to almonds, hazelnut meal also is used as a partial substitute for flour to create low-carbohydrate products. The ingredient, one nut supplier says, also adds texture and provides the ideal top-ping.
Pistachios grow in Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, and have similar attributes to almonds. The use of pistachios in bakery foods is more common in Europe and the Middle but U.S. consumption is growing. Pistachios are low in saturated fat and a source of protein and calcium. Pistachios' rich, buttery flavor and green color prove ideal for use in sweet goods such as biscotti and cookies. Finely diced pistachios add visual appeal and a pleasant texture to pastries and other sweet bakery foods.
Pistachios, and the entire roster of nuts, provide high-volume bakers with a widely accepted ingredient that enhances bakery foods' taste, nutrition and appeal. Each variety of nut offers unique taste and texture profiles and gives bakers the ideal ingredient inclusion to keep customers satisfied and coming back for more.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF OREGON HAZELNUT BOARD