Why Pulverizing Nuts into Butter is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Mental Health
Sluggish days, funky moods, and uncontrollable hormones happen. None of us signed up for them, and it’s hard to admit that you might be in the thick of them. That said, it’s part of being human, so here we all are, scrambling to find a way through these unwanted swings. When these days arise—days when the thought of doing anything remotely productive seems like a back-breaking task and daily activities feel like they might induce a small trauma, I like to make homemade nut butter.
On its own, cooking just about anything is a cathartic activity that can do wonders for an exhausted mind. However, there is something about unabashedly pulverizing a fragrant batch of roasted nuts and watching as they slowly evolve from a mealy, gritty texture to a smooth, glossy butter that is particularly soothing to the soul. Not to mention, following up this emotionally-cleansing kitchen endeavor with a fresh bowl of nut butter and a spoon all to yourself is not a bad deal, either.
Whether you’re in need of a spiritual awakening in the form of a nutty concoction today, or you want to slide this in your back pocket for the inevitable next time that you find yourself feeling like a complete monster, here’s how to let butter make you feel better. Whatever variety and combination of nuts you choose is up to you (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.), because it’s really the process that matters most. Start by roasting your nuts—this is a step that you can’t skip. Not only does this make your kitchen smell like a dream (thus already bringing you a small moment of zen), but toasting them unleashes those deep, nutty flavors that you’re going to want to shine through in your final product. Spread them on a sheet pan, and bake them in your oven at 350° for about 5-10 minutes, or until they’re fragrant, and let them cool.
Once they’re cool to the touch, toss them into a food processor. Now, let. Her. Rip. The blade is going to jolt around the nuts, sending them flying to the walls of your processor and making an extremely abrasive screeching sound. If there are others in your kitchen, you should warn them before you start processing, because it’s that shocking. As your whole nuts are slowly ground into finer pieces, the ear-curdling scratching noises mellow out and the hairs on your arms gradually return to their normal state. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to watch. Step away from the processor as the blade continues to whirl, and let the nut grounds slowly release their natural oils, gradually transforming into a silky butter. This takes a minute—in the meantime, turn on your favorite song, do jumping jacks, pace around your kitchen, or curl up in a ball on the floor and let out a good cry. Just do what feels right.
As the butter processes, be sure to continue to scrape down the sides of your processor, making sure to incorporate any oil that might have separated. Even though nuts are rich in natural fats, it’s also imperative that you add more fat as you’re grinding the nuts and you see that they’re not fully emulsifying. Canola oil is an easy neutral option, but if you want something with a more forward flavor, go for coconut oil. If the addition of oil doesn’t seem to be producing the smooth emulsion that you’re looking for, a splash of water can keep the mixture from feeling dry or clumpy.
As far as mix-ins and sweeteners, you have to dig to a place of deep, self-exploration and truly ask yourself what it is that you want from this butter. Honey or agave nectar provide subtle notes of sweetness that don’t send your butter over the edge and into the territory of intoxicating sugar levels of store-bought butters. Go ahead and add cinnamon, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, espresso powder, or cayenne for an added kick of flavor if you so choose. Lastly, you must add salt. Whether it’s a healthy pinch of kosher or it’s flowing straight from your tear ducts, this addition is crucial. It’s going to bring together all the deep, roasted flavors of your nuts while livening up the overall sweetness.
Now, gaze longingly into this beautiful bowl that you’ve been working on so fastidiously. You did that. Not long ago, you were looking at a handful of naked, raw nuts, and now you’re cradling a shiny vat of homemade nut butter. If those nuts can make this transformative journey from bland and lifeless to delicious and useful, then you too, can make it through this day. Moods are fleeting, but nut butters are forever (not actually—this will keep for about 7-10 days in your refrigerator). Regardless, you made it through.