Everything about nuts
The culinary magic of hazelnuts isn’t just in their standalone appeal but also in their ability to enhance other flavors. Their sweet, buttery, and slightly woody taste makes them an ideal addition to several dishes, snacks, and even drinks.
In this guide, we’ll explore the various foods and beverages that, when combined with hazelnuts, create truly memorable dining experiences.
Characteristics of Hazelnuts
Understanding the inherent qualities of hazelnuts is crucial for maximizing their culinary potential. These characteristics can be broadly categorized based on flavor and texture.
Hazelnuts captivate the palate with their unique blend of flavors. They have a subtle sweetness that complements a wide range of recipes. Buttery undertones add a rich, velvety quality, and a slightly woody taste provides an added layer of complexity. This multifaceted flavor profile sets hazelnuts apart as a one-of-a-kind ingredient.
Hazelnuts are known for their satisfying crunch, a notable feature that contributes to their culinary appeal. Texture can be manipulated to suit different dishes. Techniques exist to amplify the crunch for specific recipes, while other methods can soften or eliminate it, retaining only the flavor. As we’ll explore in the following paragraphs, the texture of hazelnuts can be as varied as their taste.
Ways to Incorporate Hazelnuts
Before discussing exciting hazelnut combos, we’ll cover how to incorporate them into your creations. Each method brings out different aspects of the nuts’ texture and flavor.
- Raw: These provide a robust consistency and a full-bodied taste. Raw hazelnuts are a great addition to dishes where you want the nut to be the star of the show, such as in salads or as a garnish.
- Toasted: The process of toasting intensifies natural flavors and adds crunch. This makes roasted hazelnuts an excellent choice for adding texture and depth to different recipes.
- Blended: These are typically just pureed hazelnuts. Blending results in a creamy base that is well-suited for sauces, dressings, and spreads. It allows you to enjoy their rich flavor in a smoother form.
- Paste: Often used in confectionery and patisserie applications, hazelnut paste offers a homogenized texture ideal for emulsified sauces and dessert bases. Unlike the blended form, it may contain additional sugar or oils.
- Chopped: These give you a softer bite than whole nuts. They’re a good choice for dishes where you want some hazelnut flavor without overpowering the dish. Their smaller size allows for an even distribution, ensuring each bite includes a hint of hazelnut.
- Oil: This method offers a more subtle way to infuse your cooking with hazelnut flavor. It’s particularly useful in dressings or as a finishing oil to add a nuanced touch.
- Flour: For those looking for gluten-free or low-carb options, hazelnut flour is an excellent alternative to traditional flours. It’s easy to use in baking and can be used in most applications, from cookies to breads.
Pairings for Hazelnuts
The right combination of foods can elevate hazelnuts’ distinctive taste and consistency. It can turn a simple dish or snack into an unforgettable experience. We’ll explore how various foods and beverages can enhance the hazelnut experience.
When pairing hazelnuts with fruits, the possibilities are as diverse as they are delicious. The key is finding options that complement or contrast with hazelnuts to enhance the overall composition. Here are some fruit categories that work particularly well:
Peaches bring a sweet and juicy element to the table. Their flavor complements the complex taste of hazelnuts. They are an excellent choice for both salads and desserts. In the following image, you can see a grilled peach and arugula salad garnished with hazelnuts.
Cherries offer a delightful balance of sweet and tart notes. They work well with hazelnuts, especially in desserts and breakfasts. The image below showcases Greek yogurt topped with cherries and hazelnuts. It’s one of my favorite ways of starting the day. Both whole and chopped work well, and the choice depends on your personal preference.
Citrus and Tropical Fruits
Grapefruits and oranges provide acidity that can balance the richness of hazelnuts. On the other hand, tropical fruits like bananas, kiwi, and mango introduce a unique flair, adding an exotic touch.
Dried fruits like figs, prunes, dates, and apricots offer a different texture and a concentrated sweetness. These characteristics make them a good match for hazelnuts, especially in baked goods or as part of a cheese board.
When I think of cheese and hazelnuts, I think of spoiling my guests with a delicious and beautiful cheese board. Teaming up these two foods opens up a world of delightful combinations. These contrasting textures and flavors can create a harmonious or exciting experience. Here are some cheese categories that do an exceptional job:
Cheeses like brie or camembert offer a creaminess that beautifully complements the hazelnut crunch, especially when roasted. This pairing shines in appetizers, snacks, and small plates.
Parmesan or aged cheddar can be grated over hazelnuts to add a savory kick to salads or other dishes. The robust essences of these cheeses enhance the nutty undertones.
Blue cheese’s strong and tangy qualities create a compelling contrast with the sweet and nutty profile of hazelnuts. This combination is particularly striking and can elevate the complexity of a snack or even main dish.
Other cheeses also offer interesting pairing opportunities. Each one of the following has something different to offer:
- Feta brings a salty contrast.
- Goat cheese adds a tangy note.
- Gruyère contributes its own nutty flavor.
- Taleggio provides a fruity tang.
Sweets and Desserts
I’m sure this pairing comes as no surprise to you. The combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is iconic. Some historical brands, like Nutella, have built their foundations on this union.
But the potential of hazelnuts extends beyond chocolate. Their distinct flavor profile and crunch make them an ideal companion for dessert-like foods. Let’s explore some of the most harmonious blends:
Regular milk chocolate is the most common variety paired with hazelnuts, and for a good reason.
This combination is highly regarded. In fact, countries like Switzerland import a significant amount of hazelnuts just to blend them with chocolate.
You don’t have to rely on pre-mixed options, though. If you have chocolate and hazelnuts on hand, feel free to mix them yourself for a homemade treat.
Ice cream and gelato
The hazelnut crunch beautifully enhances the creamy nature of ice cream and gelato. Flavors like vanilla work perfectly with the nuts’ profile.
If ice cream and hazelnuts are readily available, consider sprinkling some chopped hazelnuts over your scoop for an added layer of texture and flavor.
Hazelnuts are a common ingredient in baked goods. Their crunchy nature and nutty flavor enhance them. Whether in macarons, biscotti, carrot cake, or brownies, hazelnuts elevate these baked treats to a new level of deliciousness.
Hazelnuts are increasingly being used to add complexity to creamy desserts like panna cotta and custard.
One of my favorites is sprinkling them over chocolate mousse, which creates a doubly delightful experience. This pairing capitalizes on the creaminess of the mousse and the classic compatibility of hazelnuts with chocolate.
The contrast between the smooth texture of the mousse and the nut’s gentle crunch makes for a memorable gastronomic experience.
Wines and liquors
The right drink can amplify the robust notes of hazelnuts and enhance the overall tasting experience.
For white wine, Chardonnay is a top recommendation. Its buttery and sometimes oaky notes harmonize with the similar qualities found in hazelnuts. This creates a seamless blend of flavors, making the pairing particularly enjoyable.
When it comes to red wines, Merlot stands out. Its soft tannins and fruit-forward profile, often featuring plum or black cherry flavors, complement the nutty and slightly woody characteristics of hazelnuts. The wine’s medium body doesn’t overpower the nut, allowing both elements to shine.
Various liqueurs also offer unique ways to complement hazelnuts:
- Cognac adds a warming note, enhancing the nut’s earthy undertones.
- Amaretto contributes an almond-like sweetness, which pairs well with the hazelnut’s own sweetness.
- Orange liqueurs provide citrus elements that can cut through the richness of the nut.
- Rum introduces a sugarcane sweetness, offering a tropical twist to the pairing.
Hazelnuts are a natural fit for flavored coffees and teas. For instance, green tea’s subtle bitterness contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the nut.
Many people also infuse hazelnuts directly into beverages like herbal teas, creating a new and distinct drink.
For those interested in non-traditional experiments, I have a suggestion. I’ve found that matcha green tea with ginseng offers an outstanding complement when consumed alongside hazelnuts.
The earthy, umami properties of matcha and the slightly bitter notes of ginseng harmonize with the full-bodied hazelnut character. This pairing revealed new taste dimensions and gave me a remarkable experience.
Hazelnuts can elevate more than desserts and snacks. They also pair wonderfully with everyday staple foods. Here’s how you can incorporate them into your regular meals:
Grains and Plant-Based Options
Quinoa, tofu, and tempeh are flexible bases that readily absorb the flavor of hazelnuts. Mix them into a quinoa salad or enhance a tofu stir-fry with them. These options effectively incorporate hazelnuts into vegetarian dishes.
Meat and fish
Using hazelnuts as a crust is becoming more popular. This technique is especially common in dishes featuring fish such as cod and salmon. This approach enriches the recipe with a delicate crunch and nuanced flavor.
While commonly seen in seafood preparations, this technique is also used in meat dishes, with chicken being a standout option.
In addition to crusts, hazelnuts are also commonly used as stuffing, where they lend a nutty character to various dishes. Some of the most popular options are turkey and chicken.
Final Thoughts on Hazelnut Combinations
Hazelnuts are adaptable and offer endless possibilities to enrich your meals and discover new taste profiles. Options range from classic matches, like chocolate, to more adventurous choices, like cheese.
I encourage you to experiment with these pairings and even venture beyond them. The world of hazelnuts is rich and expansive, and there’s no limit to the culinary creativity they can inspire. Let your imagination run wild, combine flavors, and discover new synergies that delight your palate.