Baking with nuts and seeds is one of life’s humble delights.
While not often the main ingredient, their benefits are threefold, delivering a crunchy texture, an attractive appearance and a nutritional boost.
They must be treated with some respect, however. Their great flavors are the result of the oils within, which can be compromised by poor storage, becoming “off,” even rancid, if stored with too much exposure to air and warmth, or for too long a time.
Storage tips often recommend keeping nuts and seeds in cool, dry places. But why tempt unreliable conditions, especially when there’s an easy solution?
Simply keep them in the freezer.
That solid, unvarying cold keeps the oils stable. Nuts and seeds should stay fresh for up to a year, which is a boon for those who get a good deal on bulk purchases.
They still need to be kept in sturdy, airtight containers, or double-bagged in freezer bags. But you can be assured that they can be relied upon for crunch, looks and nutrition at a moment’s notice.
Now, what may seem a brief contradiction: Before you use your super-chilled nuts and seeds, heat them up.
This isn’t necessarily because they’re emerging from the freezer. It’s a well-known kitchen technique to briefly toast nuts and seeds to activate those flavorful oils.
In addition to turning up the volume on flavor, a little heat makes them crisper and, especially if the nuts will be used as a garnish, can give them an attractive golden tinge.
You can toast nuts and seeds in three ways:
In the oven: Spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 325-degree oven for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the type and amount of nuts, stirring often, until they are aromatic.
In the microwave: Spread them on a microwave-safe plate and microwave them on high in 1-minute stints for 2 to 4 minutes until fragrant, stirring at each minute.
On the stovetop: Place nuts or seeds in a dry skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring often and watching that they don’t scorch. This may take less than 2 minutes.
The following recipe for rye crackers is a showcase for nuts and seeds, as well as dried fruit. These crackers adapt well to personal tastes, so play with different combinations of ingredients, while keeping the proportions as directed.
These crackers are terrific with soft cheeses and salty meats, but also are a wonderful solo nibble.
Rye Crackers With Nuts, Seeds and Dried Fruit
Makes about 70 to 80 crackers.
Note: The baked loaf needs to chill at least an hour before slicing and re-baking the crackers. Don’t want 70 crackers at a time? You can freeze one half of the baked loaf, double-wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, for up to a month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before slicing and baking. From Kim Ode.
• 1 c. buttermilk
• 1/4 c. honey
• 1 c. rye flour
• 1 c. whole-wheat flour
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. kosher salt
• 1 c. dried fruit, a combination of chopped dried mission figs, apricots, craisins, cherries, etc., to total 1 cup
• 1/2 c. nuts, such as sliced almonds and pistachios
• 2 tbsp. each of flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a standard loaf pan and dust with rye flour. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together buttermilk and honey. Add both flours, baking soda, salt and dried fruit.
In a skillet, mix together nuts and seeds and toast on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring, until there’s a slight nutty aroma. Be careful not to let them scorch. Add to the bowl and mix thoroughly.
Spread dough evenly in prepared pan and bake 45 minutes, until firm. Let bread cool 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack.
After 30 minutes, cut loaf down center into 2 long loaves and place in refrigerator to cool for at least 1 hour.
To make crackers, preheat oven to 300 degrees. With a serrated knife, cut chilled loaf crosswise into slices slightly more than 1/8 inch thick but not thicker than 1/4 inch. Take your time with this step to keep crackers consistent.
Arrange slices in a single layer on 2 baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and turn over each cracker, then return to oven (switching the sheets’ position on the oven racks) and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, watching carefully so they don’t overbrown. Let cool completely; they will further crisp as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Nutrition information per cracker (of 80):
Calories 27 Fat 1 g Sodium 60 mg
Carbohydrates 5 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 2 g
Protein 1 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb.