Welcome to Pretty Fly for a DIY, a series in which we take a closer look at commonly purchased food items, and highlight the most important things you need to know in order to successfully make them for yourself at home. Why would I make it instead of buy it, you ask? We know convenience factor is a real consideration when it comes to getting food on the table, but every so often, it's super satisfying (and fun) to get into the kitchen and create a higher quality, more delicious product than what you can find on supermarket shelves.
Today, we're talking nut butter. Nut butters are a versatile, kid-friendly, nutrient-dense workhorse in plenty of households, and making your own opens the door to complete customization. Not to mention, since you're controlling exactly what goes into it, this is a protein source you can feel exceptionally good about feeding to your family and yourself. Once you understand the basics, you can whip up a butter with whatever nuts and seeds you like best.
Depending on the type of nuts that you use, amounts of additional ingredients will vary (this is one of those DIY foods that you simply have to feel your way on--trust thyself), but the fundamental construct of any nut butter you make will be: nuts/seeds of your choice, flavor agents (sweetener, salt, etc.), a little added fat, and likely a little water. In a nutshell, you'll roast your nuts, put them in the food processor with the additional fat and any desired flavorings, then process, adding water as necessary. Perfectly honest, knowing this and the 5 tips below will serve you better than a recipe. But if you want one as a guide for the first couple of batches, that's totally understandable and you can find one by clicking the photo below.
P.S. I hope you don't mind, but for the purposes of this explanation, I'm going to lump peanuts (yes, I know you know they're a legume, not a nut--congrats) into the "nut" family as it is a common and cost efficient choice for making butter.
The Five Things You Need to Know:
1. You have to baby this stuff.
This is the #1 "thing to know" because it is absolutely necessary to success, and most recipes you'll find out there don't place enough emphasis on the fact that you have to be especially attentive to your process when whipping up a batch of nut butter. To make nut butters at home, essentially all you're doing is throwing nuts into your food processor and processing them into a spread--easy right? Right. BUT this isn't a toss them in and let the processor run-until-done type of project. A little patience and finesse is required if you want a seamlessly smooth final product.
All nuts contain significant levels of (good-for-you) fat. And when you make nut butters, you are using this fat to create a stable emulsion (I will continue to harp on this)--that's what nut butter is, a smooth paste created through emulsification. Once you begin working the nuts in the food processor, they're going to start releasing their oils. And if you honestly don't care about any of the "why" context of this point, just pay attention to the following:
***As soon as you see oil starting to separate out from the solids: Stop your processor, grab a rubber spatula, and give the contents of your food processor some solid scraping and stirring action. You will need to pause and reincorporate everything by hand at regular intervals once you see those oils surfacing. Process, stop and stir, repeat--make sense?
If you're not attentive and over-process your nuts, it's damn near impossible to permanently reincorporate the separated fats into your butter. Different nuts will behave differently in this sense depending on their fat content, so you simply have to keep an eye on it and accept the fact that you've gotta baby your butter. Nuts with a higher fat content--like cashews and macadamias--are more prone to broken emulsions from over-processing, so you will need to stop and stir sooner and more often.
2. You'll want to start with naked nuts.
Or as naked as possible. Across the board, unsalted nuts without skin (as in blanched almonds, skinned hazelnuts, etc.) are your ideal starting point so that you have full control over the flavor profile of your butter. The bulk bins at grocery stores like Whole Foods are great for sourcing you nuts for butters. When skinless isn't an option, say if you're making pecan or walnut butter, just keep in mind that you will likely need to add a little extra sweetener to balance the touch of bitter.
And since I brought it up, let's talk about sweeteners for a sec. I advise going with a mild honey if you plan to add a sweetener. Some folks prefer to skip the added sugar in their butters, but I like at least a little and then a little more (about an additional teaspoon of honey per cup of nuts being used) for the skin-on nuts mentioned above. Beyond adding a touch of sweet, honey will lend stability to your emulsion. You can add this and any other seasoning (i.e. salt) to the mixture at the beginning of processing and tweak to taste towards the end of the process.
The one non-negotiable, as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to your treating your nuts for butter is toasting. For deep, robustly nutty flavor, you need to lightly toast your nuts before processing. Simply spread your nuts in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, pop it into a 350° oven, and let them toast for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly golden and fragrant. Cool slightly before proceeding to the food processor.
3. You gotta add additional (solid) fat.
While the nuts themselves are rich in natural oils, your nut butter will not reach a spreadable consistency without the addition of another fat. This additional fat should ideally be one that is solid at room temperature, such as coconut or palm oil. You can use a neutral flavored liquid oil, such as canola, if that's what you have on hand, but I find that solid fats work better in this application. You'll want to add about 1 tablespoon for every 4 cups of nuts. You can add this to the food processor with your whole nuts at the beginning of processing.
4. You ought to keep some water on hand.
Remember how I said I'm going to keep harping on the fact that a delightfully textured homemade nut butter requires us to form an emulsion? Yeah, well water helps us to do that (especially for less oily nuts like hazelnuts and pistachios). Just keep a bowl of room temperature water at your side when you go to process your nuts. If the contents of your processor seem to be dry and/or your processor starts growling at you, add a tablespoon of water as necessary.
5. This ain't Jif, don't store it in the pantry.
Obviously, your DIY nut butter won't contain the preservatives and stabilizers that a commercially produced product does, so you don't want to leave it out at room temperature. Store your butter in the refrigerator in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. You'll need to let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes before each use to soften up. Your butters will be best consumed within 7 to 10 days.
The Recipes You Need to Have:
DIY nut butter is fantastic by the spoonful or simply spread over toast, but you'll enjoy them even more when you incorporate them into your meals throughout the week.