I Can’t Believe It’s Nut Butter!

How I spent last weekend turning (but not churning) things into butter

I’ve never had much interest in making butter, as I tend to shy away from any kitchen process that involves slow churning and/or evokes images of lacy bonnets. However, as a result of (1) the recent nut butter salmonella scare, (2) my acquisition of a Vitamix blender (Thanks, Mom!), and (3) a bounty of figs and apples (Thanks, David and Dori!), I have begun to experiment with turning various food items into butter.

Part 1: Almond Butter

Do you remember the recent salmonella scare that led to the recall of a variety of nut butters sold at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere? I had, in fact, purchased two of the products in question and failed to notice the recall campaign alerting consumers to the virulent bacteria potentially lurking inside of them (because I live under a rock). As luck would have it, I left the nut butters (and their potentially pathogenic prokaryotic inhabitants) unopened and went on vacation. During my vacation, I was gifted a super powerful Vitamix blender. Upon my return, I read about the nut butter recall on The Kitchn. This fortuitous series of events could only mean one thing – that it was time for me to make my own almond butter. I returned my questionable nut butters, purchased a bag of almonds, and got to churning.

Okay, the process of making almond butter (or any nut butter, for that matter) doesn’t exactly resemble the slow churning of butter. I suppose you could call it high-speed, motor-assisted churning, though. Basically, you grind the nuts until they turn into a paste. So, how does that work? Although they seem quite dry on the outside, almonds contain between 36 and 60% oil by dry mass. When you grind them up, you initially get a coarse meal called almond flour. Further grinding causes the cell walls to fracture, releasing oils that turn the mixture into a smooth paste.

Almond butter is remarkably easy to make if you have a powerful food processor or blender. Just get a bag of dry roasted, unsalted almonds (about 3 cups), toss them in the blender (sans the bag, of course), and blend the heck out of them, scraping down the sides as necessary. And, voila! Creamy, delicious, one-ingredient almond butter.

Some notes:

  • I was originally dismayed to find that the recipe for almond butter in the Vitamix manual called for the addition of canola oil. Fortunately, I ignored the recipe, and it came out fine.
  • I had a hard time scraping all of the almond butter out of the blender. There was stuff stuck under the blades that was difficult to recover.
  • I read that almond butter keeps in the refrigerator for a week. I have kept the store-bought stuff in the refrigerator for much longer than a week, but I froze part of this batch to avoid rancidity.

Part 2: Apple Butter

I was recently the lucky recipient of a bag of apples from a tree in what used to be my grandparents’ backyard. These apples are a special, non-vegetarian variety, meaning that they potentially contain worms. I had recently come across some apple butter recipes, so I decided it would be interesting to turn these into apple butter (or apple/worm butter?).

Many apple butter recipes call for copious amounts of sugar. However, I took a fairly minimalist approach, as described by Oh She Glows. I liked that the recipe could be accomplished using a slow cooker rather than slaving over the stove for hours.

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Core and slice the apples, taking care to remove the wormy parts. Place them in a slow cooker. (Big slices are okay, and there’s no need to peel them.)
  2. Cover and cook overnight (8-10 hours) on low.
  3. Mash the soft apples (and worms) with a fork. It will look like chunky applesauce at this point. Allow to cool for a little while.
  4. Blend the applesauce mixture in a high-speed blender until it’s smooth and silky.
  5. Pour the pulverized apples (and worms) back into the slow cooker, but don’t replace the lid. Turn the slow cooker to high, and cook (uncovered) for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. This will cause the water to evaporate and thicken the apple butter.
  6. Add lemon juice and spices if desired. (I used cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and some vanilla.)

The apple butter was quite delicious, and it definitely didn’t need additional sugar. I could have reduced it more to make it thicker, but the thought of eating the equivalent of an entire apple in one spoonful of apple butter seems a little unhealthy. Now, what can you do with apple butter? I have tried stirring it into plain Greek yogurt (pretty good). I also used it to make these muffins (also pretty good).

Part 3: Fig Butter

Fig butter? Really? Okay, so I had never planned to make fig butter. I had a bounty of figs, and Bill kept giving them dirty looks, proclaiming, “These aren’t looking so good. You’d better do something with them.” I really like to eat figs raw, but there were a lot of figs, and Bill obviously wasn’t helping, so I decided it was time for an experiment.

My path to fig butter was rather circuitous. The original plan was to make stewed figs, but they turned out slimy and gross. As I am never one to waste food, I attempted to salvage the figs in a variety of ways. My final inspiration came while I was making the apple butter. Why not make fig butter?

Without further ado, here is how NOT to make fig butter:

Step 1: Stew the figs.

  1. Wash the figs and remove their stems.
  2. Place the figs in a pot and cover them with water (following instructions on the Internet for how to make stewed figs).
  3. Look quizzically at the figs as they float to the surface of the water.
  4. Pour on more water and poke at the floating figs in an attempt to sink them.
  5. Give up.
  6. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  7. Watch as the figs change color from a beautiful purple to a ghastly green and begin to ooze a red substance into the water.
  8. Remark on how closely the green, shriveled figs resemble sea anemone.
  9. Continue to cook the figs until they become soft.
  10. Remove the figs from the red water and continue to reduce the red water into somewhat of a syrup.
  11. Scare Bill by showing him the shriveled, stewed stewed figs bathing in their own red juices.

Step 2: Freeze stewed figs into a giant ice block for use in smoothies.

  1. Freeze the stewed figs with the intention of including them in smoothies.
  2. Attempt to chisel off an individual fig from the frozen ice block.
  3. Give up.
  4. Ponder what you were thinking when you froze the stewed figs in their juices and expected to break off individual frozen figs.

Step 3: Turn the frozen, stewed figs into a strange-tasting fig sorbet.

  1. Thaw the figs partially in the refrigerator.
  2. Blend the figs on high speed until they resemble a sorbet.
  3. You have made fig sorbet. It tastes weird.

Step 4: Turn the weird fig sorbet into a more palatable fig butter.

  1. Pour the fig sorbet into a saucepan, and heat it on the stove.
  2. Reduce the “sorbet” over medium heat. Make sure to stir constantly, unless you’ve decided to go with an “exploded fig” kitchen decor theme.
  3. Add lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, and any other spices you see fit.
  4. Don’t even try to get Bill to taste the fig butter.

The fig butter was not as good as the apple butter, but it was definitely the best cooked version of the figs that I made. I had a fig and almond butter sandwich the other day, which was quite tasty. Bill is happy now that the ghastly figs are gone.

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