Cooking with Nut Butters

Easy-to-make, fresh nut butters add complexity and depth to sweet and savory dishes
Kathy Baruffi

When we learned about research demonstrating the health benefits of eating nuts, we knew there had to be better ways to reap the benefits than chowing down on peanut butter sandwiches.

So we asked one of our favorite recipe developers, Lorrie Hulston Corvin, to come up with creative recipes using nuts. The project excited her, she said, because it was a challenge: Cooking Light wanted more than nuts sprinkled on top of something else.

Her solution? Processing nuts into butters, which are then used to flavor, thicken, and replace dairy cream in traditional recipes. “Nut butters are seldom mentioned in Western cooking, but they’re often a staple in other countries,” Lorrie says. “Peanut sauces are common in Thai dishes, and peanut stew is a traditional African dish, but Americans are most likely to think just of peanut butter cookies and sandwiches.”

Lorrie has come up with ways to change that perception, using almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, and macadamias in surprising ways, both sweet and savory: Hazelnut butter thickens a lamb stew, walnut butter shows up in an apple tart, and macadamia butter appears in cookies. “The more you experiment with these adaptable nut butters, the more you’ll love them,” Lorrie says.

Butters in a Nutshell

Making nut butters: Just grind nuts in a food processor until they form a paste. Some nut butters will be creamy; others, a bit grainy. The higher the fat, the smoother the butter will be.

Commercial vs. fresh: We’d planned on using commercial nut butters for these recipes, but after a side-by-side tasting with homemade butters, we abandoned that idea. Homemade nut butters taste much better but are more perishable than commercial ­varieties, so make them in small batches. Store homemade butters covered in the refrigerator for up to a month. To make spreading easier, let nut butters return to room temperature. As a general rule, there is a 2 to 1 ratio of nuts used to the nut butter yield (1 cup nuts will make 1/2 cup nut butter, for example). To toast nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and bake at 400° for 5 minutes.

Making nut creams: Whisk about 1 cup water into 1/4 cup nut butter to create a nut cream, a good substitute for heavy cream in pasta sauces and desserts. Start with neutral-­flavored cashew or almond butter, then branch out to more flavorful nuts.