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Almonds 101

Almonds deliver valuable nutrients—protein, unsaturated fat, vitamin E, antioxidants, fiber. Of course almonds are not calorie free—they have 163 calories per ounce—but they pack a lot of nutrients per calorie; they are “nutrient dense” in other words. At the other extreme are so-called “empty calories,” like those from soda or candy. What’s more, almonds, like other nuts, do a good job of satisfying hunger and make people feel satiated.

One intriguing study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, involved 20 overweight women who ate 300 calories’ worth of almonds every day for 10 weeks. The rest of their diet was at their discretion. Surprisingly, these women did not gain weight, indicating that they naturally compensated for the almond calories by eating less of something else.

Another fascinating study supports the claim that almonds are a heart-healthy snack. Subjects who snacked on almonds had significantly better cholesterol readings at the end of the trial than those who snacked on low-saturated-fat whole-wheat muffins.

And can we talk antioxidants? Those are the compounds that neutralize free radicals in the body, so they prevent damage to cells. You may have heard that broccoli and green tea are loaded with antioxidants. But you probably weren’t aware that almonds, ounce for ounce, have a comparable amount. To get the maximum benefit, keep the skins on.

Almonds: A baker’s glossary

Almond butter: This roasted nut butter can replace natural peanut butter in any application, such as cookies or energy bars. You can add it to ganache or buttercreams, where it can substitute for up to half the butter. Almond butter is roughly 50 percent fat by weight. Consider finishing a custard with almond butter instead of dairy butter.

Almond flour: This product, made by grinding blanched or natural almonds to a powder, tends to be finer than almond meal. You can make your own almond flour in a food processor. For the finest texture, start with slivered or sliced almonds instead
of whole nuts.

European pastry chefs use almond flour in several spongecake formulas, such as the one for the French gâteau Joconde. In a basic butter cookie, pie crust or quick bread, you can easily substitute 20 to 25 percent of the refined wheat flour with almond flour. In a génoise, the result will be a little denser but with a lovely toastiness and nut aroma.

Do you have customers with gluten allergies? Don’t overlook the usefulness of almond flour in gluten-free formulas. Most gluten-free baking blends contain starches and gums that don’t enhance flavor.

Almond milk: This creamy non-dairy “milk” is produced either by combining almond flour with cold water and blending it to extract the solids; or, preferably, by soaking blanched almonds in water overnight, then processing the mixture and straining.
Vegan customers will especially appreciate breads and desserts made with almond milk.

Almond oil: Pressed from roasted or raw almonds, this oil has a high smoke point (about 420°F) so it’s suitable for frying. Made with raw almonds, the oil has a mild taste and fragrance; with roasted almonds, it is nutty.

Replacing melted butter in a génoise or vegetable oil in a quick bread, roasted almond oil would contribute a rich, nutty taste. Note that substituting almond oil for butter will make baked goods shorter and more friable because the oil contains no water.

Almond paste: You are probably familiar with almond paste in cakes, macaroons and fillings. But did you realize you can use it to make a refreshing granita? In Sicily, one of the most popular pastry-shop offerings is an icy almond-milk granita made by freezing a blend of almond paste and water. With high-quality almond paste (65 percent almonds, 35 percent sugar), figure about 1⁄3 cup almond paste to 1½ cups water. Blend, chill, then freeze. Sicilians enjoy almond-milk granita for breakfast on hot days.

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