Saturday, May 28, 2011


Buckwheat cookies can be enriched with Brazil nut flour.
No, you read it wrong – it’s exotica , not erotica. Meaning: items that are unusual, strange and interesting. Food, in this case. (Though I suppose all those descriptors could be some folks idea of erotica, too…)

Qualifier: if you’re from South America, you probably won’t find the item I’m about to extol to be exotic. In some regions of the Amazon, indigenous people get a huge chunk of their protein from this. However, if you, like me, learned as a kid to hate Brazil nuts, then read on – they’re not only exotic, they’re wonderful.

I encountered a roasted Brazil nut the other day by accident – it was in some granola. But the taste was so rich and so unique I knew it had to be explored.

Brazil nuts, in case you’ve never tried them, are thumb-sized, somewhat bland and frequently mealy, even bitter. If you put some in a mix to pass around at a party, they’ll be the last nut to disappear. (If it’s a kid’s party they’ll still be in the bowl.) They really do come from Brazil, btw – they’re the fruit of the Bertholletia excelsa tree and an excellent nutritional source. (Some authors caution that the nuts' high quantities of selenium and the trees' ability to uptake naturally occurring radium mean they should be eaten with discretion. That is, don't go on a Brazil-nuts-only diet).

To my palette, roasting makes a huge difference for nuts in general. Pecans are a good example. My mother-in-law’s chocolate drop cookie recipe calls for finely chopped pecans, and they’re a good holiday treat. But when you toast(roast) the pecans … wow!

Toasting nuts is an easy task: get a dry cast iron skillet good and hot, toss in the pecans, and flip them around with a spoon until they get slightly darker and give off a toasty, mouth-watering aroma. If you toast too long you’ll be sorry – a few seconds makes the difference between umami and ugly. Which leads to the problem: Brazil nuts are big.  You need to heat them in a way that doesn’t scorch.

Spread them in a single layer on a sheet of tin foil. Place in a preheated 400 F oven. Whole nuts toast in about 8 – 10 minutes, after which they need to be removed ASAP to a cool counter, which stops the roasting. Warning: they smell so good you’ll want to eat them all as soon as they’re cool to the tongue. Try and restrain yourself – the best is yet to come.

Ground or chopped, roasted Brazil nuts pair superbly with chocolate, quinoa, kañiwa and buckwheat. I’ve taken to grinding them in a food processor and substituting for almond flour in recipes that call for the latter.  (Thank you Lisa Slater for doing such a great job with my buckwheat/almond cookie recipe!) Chopped into small pieces they’re an excellent "add" with walnuts in your fave brownie recipe, and they work atop a fruit crumble too. 

Incidentally, the other day I was challenged to make a dessert that was not only gluten-free but free of sugar and dairy. Toasted Brazil nuts were part of the plan. Here’s my solution, adapted from a recipe by Annalise Roberts.                                  

Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free and Dairy-Free fruit crumble


For the filling              5 cups mixed fresh fruits (such as blackberries and chopped                                                            peaches)
                                    2 TBLS cornstarch
                                    1/2 tsp cinnamon
                                    1/4 tsp nutmeg
                                    3 TBLS lemon juice
                                    1/4 tsp Stevia

for the topping             1/2 cup chopped, roasted Brazil nuts
                                    1/3 cup white rice flour
                                    1/6 cup potato starch
                                    1/6 cup modified tapioca starch (Expandex)
                                    1/3 cup Kañiwa (0r quinoa) flour
                                    1/3 cup coconut oil
                                    3 TBLS honey
                                    1 TBLS Boiled cider (Available from King Arthur Flour)
                                    1/2 tsp cinnamon
                                    1/2 tsp Xanthan gum
                                    1/4 tsp salt

For the finish:              1/2 cup blueberry syrup or cherry cider

Method:                       Preheat oven to 350 F. grease the insides of 4, 4” diameter pyrex                                       baking bowls. In a separate large bowl, mix filling ingredients and set aside.

                                    Warm coconut oil in microwave until it liquefies (about 20” at                                       medium power). Place dry ingredients for topping in a large bowl. Stir to blend. Add melted coconut oil and stir well, until all ingredients are blended.

                                    Divide fruit filling equally among the pyrex baking dishes. Spread                                                 topping on top. Bake until fruit bubbles and topping browns, about 30 – 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to just above room temperature.

                                    To serve: Run a knife around the inside edge of the baking bowls ,                                                 then invert over plates. Drizzle with blueberry syrup or cherry cider and (optional) top with vanilla ice cream.

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