An announcement of one’s profession often comes with a predictable series of questions. A mechanic in given various vocal interpretations of engine noises. A doctor is flushed with descriptions of odd body functions. And I, upon announcement of working as a pastry chef, was most commonly asked how to peel hazelnuts.
A common task that seems to stump nearly everyone who tries to detach the papery skin from the nut, I was specifically asked how to complete the task without it being so difficult. My answer always started with confirmation that while yes, I was a pastry chef, and yes, I do work with hazelnuts often, and in large quantities, they are always a pain in the ass.
I have come up with a few steps to make it less so, but I’ll say it again, it’s an obnoxious task.
Toast the nuts at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. During this time, the nut swells. The brittle, papery skin will not stretch with the swollen nut and cracks under the pressure of the swelling. When the nut meats have toasted properly, turning a nice golden color and started to offer an obvious aroma, remove them from the oven.
Now walk away. This is the point I find most crucial to the entire process. The nut should be allowed to cool for at least half an hour before attempting to remove skin. In this time, the swollen nut meat will return to it’s original size, and the oils will cool. If you attempt to remove the skin soon after the nuts have been pulled from the oven, the oils will adhere the skin to the nut, making it nearly impossible to remove.
When the nuts are cooled, they can be rubbed together like ball bearings in your hands, or in a dish towel, and the skins should flake away. Some skin will remain, but don’t fret. Instead of seeing what you failed to remove, remember that the flecks of skin in any hazelnut dessert are a recognizable visual clue to the amazing flavor imparted to the dish by this particular nut.