DIY Nut Butters

This easy kitchen project is fun and tasty: you'll be amazed at the difference between homemade butters and the salty, too-sweet stuff you've been buying at the supermarket.
nut butter
Almost everyone loves nut butters: almond butter, cashew butter, not to mention good ol’ peanut butter. But some brands are loaded with salt and sweeteners, as well as chemical stabilizers and preservatives. So if you want to avoid all that, make nut butter yourself.

There’s nothing to it — just a food processor, a pound of nuts and a little patience. You’ll pump up your foodie cred and end up with the tastiest peanut or pecan butter you’ve ever had. Plus, you can control the salt and sugar — and even customize the nut butter to your heart’s content by adding spices, honey, maple syrup or even chili sauce!
Nut Butters: The Basic Recipe
Place about 1 pound raw, shelled nuts — that is, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or pistachios, as well as any nut pretenders like cashews or peanuts — in a large food processor. Cover and process until creamy and smooth, scraping down the interior of the canister often while waiting patiently for the whole mixture to morph into a classic nut butter, anywhere from 12 to 18 minutes depending on the oil content of the nuts. Serving size: 1 tablespoon.
“About 1 pound”? Yes, “about” — there’s got to be some give in the recipe. Basically, you want the nuts to cover the blades of the food processor for proper grinding. But you don’t want the nuts so deep in the bowl that their weight burns out the motor. Thus, it’s all a negotiation of increments based on the size of your food processor. Start with 1 pound and see what you need. Remember to calculate the PointsPlus® values based on the amount you’ve used.
For deeper flavor, toast the nuts before processing. Scatter them on a large baking sheet and roast in a preheated 350ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. However, be aware of this: Nut butters made with toasted nuts are in general a little grainier, coarser and even drier than nut butters made with raw nuts. That said, you may find that the deeper flavor compensates for the inferior texture.
There are distinct phases to a nut butter as it processes: After a minute or so, it looks like a dry, loose sand; next, that sand begins to clump; then the clumps turn oily, almost like sticky cookie batter; and finally, the released oils emulsify the mixture into a creamy paste. Stop the processor at least once during each phase to scrape down the canister — or anytime the mixture clumps to the side or bottom of the canister and is not actively mixing with the blades.
Hazelnuts must be skinned; the papery coating can be bitter. Toast hazelnuts first to loosen their skins. Wrap the warm nuts in a clean kitchen towel, then gather the towel together and rub the nuts together inside, abrading the skins as much as possible. Some bits may well be left on each nut — the point is to get most of it off. Open the towel and pick out the nuts, leaving the bitter skins behind.
Without professional rollers and grinders, a homemade nut butter will never be as creamy as a commercial one. There will always be flecks and specks of nuts in the paste. However, never stop the processor during its efforts because you prefer a chunky nut butter. For that variation, read on.

The basic add-ins
Although you can make a fairly creamy nut butter with just a pound of raw or toasted nuts in a food processor, you might want to pump up your game with these three basic additions. (Keep in mind: If you plan to use your homemade nut butter in veggie dipping sauces or Asian stir-fries, skip the add-ins. You’ll be adding plenty of spices, condiments and other sauces to create those dishes.):

  • Chopped nuts. To make a chunky nut butter, add up to 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts after the nut butter has become creamy and smooth. Pulse the processor repeatedly to incorporate the chopped nuts. If you like a superchunky nut butter, add 1 cup finely chopped nuts.
  • Salt. Nothing makes a nut butter taste better! But you don’t need too much. Consider adding up to 1 teaspoon salt to the food processor after the nut butter has reached a good consistency. Process for about 30 seconds to get the salt blended into the paste.
  • Sugar and sweeteners. Consider honey, maple syrup, brown sugar or agave nectar. Add between 2 and 3 tablespoons to the nut butter after it reaches its final consistency — then let the food processor do the work for another minute or so to incorporate the sweetener. And there’s this added benefit: Any of these sweeteners will improve the texture of the nut butter you make! By the way, you can also add artificial sweeteners at this point — check the label to ascertain the formula for substituting an artificial sweetener for sugar. (Artificial sweeteners will not improve the final texture of the nut butter.)

Even More Add-Ins

  • Cocoa powder. For a chocolate nut butter, add 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder after you’ve gotten a creamy paste. Note: Unsweetened cocoa butter requires an added sweetener in the mix. (We don’t suggest using powdered, sweetened hot-cocoa mix because of the extra flavors and chemical additives.)
  • Warm spices like ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, ground cloves or ground ginger(they're warm in flavor, not in temperature). Add up to 1 teaspoon of any of these or any combination of these after the nut butter has reached its final consistency; process for about 30 seconds to incorporate.
  • Vanilla extract. Consider up to 2 teaspoons with one of the sweeteners.
  • Or get adventurous. You can go Southwestern by adding chili powder, cumin and dried oregano. You can go Thai by adding a bit of Thai curry paste. You can add curry powder. You can add garam masala. You can add herbs and grated Parmesan. In fact, anything you can use to season popcorn can be used to flavor a nut butter. How about a few drops of a hot red pepper sauce? As with any addition, you must fully process the nut butter first, then add the mix-ins and process for up to 1 minute to combine thoroughly.
Calculating (and Slashing) PointsPlus values
You can cut the number of PointsPlus values for each tablespoon of nut butter by up to one-third by adding 1/2 cup of any of the following mix-ins.
  • Canned unsweetened pumpkin purée (not pumpkin-pie filling)
  • Cooked puréed winter squash (such as butternut or acorn squash)
  • Cooked, peeled and mashed sweet potato
  • Unsweetened apple butter
  • Unsweetened pear butter or ginger pear butter
  • Mashed, peeled banana
  • Cooked brown rice

Add any of these once you’ve got a creamy nut butter in the food processor, then process for up to 1 additional minute to incorporate fully. The number of servings for the batch will be increased by 8 (based on a 1/2 cup addition), and the overall PointsPlus values for each tablespoon will then be reduced.

Storing nut butters
Once you’ve got the nut butter at the consistency and flavor you like, scrape it into glass jars or plastic containers. Seal and refrigerate for up to 1 month or freeze for up to 4 months. Two half-pint or four quarter-pint Ball canning jars work well because you can then keep some of the nut butter in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

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