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Cooking from the Pantry: Peanut Butter

Roasted Peanuts | Photo by Maria Zizka
Photos: Maria Zizka

Most of us have preferences when it comes to peanut butter. Some like smooth and spreadable, while others want to be reminded that they are eating crushed peanuts. There's also the question of salt. In my opinion, salt is essential.

Making peanut butter at home is as simple as blending peanuts. You really don't need much of a recipe at all. Nevertheless, here are a few tips and tricks that will help you make the kind of peanut butter that you like best.

First, start with good-quality peanuts. You can buy them in bulk and shell them yourself, or you can scoop up pre-shelled peanuts and save yourself the hassle. More important than the presence of a shell is the freshness of the peanut. Taste one, if you can. Now's the time to look for freshly dug peanuts. Our national crop, most of which is grown in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, is harvested throughout early fall, when the temperature outside is still warm and the soil is soft from light rainfall.

Before tossing the peanuts in a blender, toast them in the oven. This will bring out their nutty flavor and also cause the natural oils to rise to the surface. Many peanut butter recipes call for adding peanut oil, but I like to leave out the oil unless absolutely necessary. If the peanuts you're working with are drier than usual, then you may want to consider adding a tablespoon or so.

Making peanut butter at home | Photo by Maria Zizka

You could also think about swapping out a portion of the peanuts for another type of nut. Be aware that certain nuts are harder and can take longer to grind than others. In general, the more oily the nut, the easier it will turn into nut butter. Cashews and pecans take no time at all; hazelnuts and pistachios require a few extra minutes.

Once the peanuts are ground to peanut butter, a few crumbles of crunchy nut pieces will remain in the mix. I think of homemade peanut butter as existing somewhere between crunchy and smooth. If you prefer super crunchy, simply scoop out some of the ground peanuts at the beginning and add them back in at the end.

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Lastly, you can customize the flavor of your peanut butter by blending in a spoonful of honey, some maple syrup or molasses, or even a pitted date or two for extra sweetness.

At the end of the blending process, the peanut butter will be creamy and warm from all that friction. The impulse to lick the spoon is too strong--just give in.

Peanut Butter | Photo by Maria Zizka

Peanut Butter
Makes a little more than 1 cup

 

If you're using a powerful blender such as a Vitamix, the blending will take less time. Stop and scrape down the sides and along the bottom as often as needed.

2 cups (11 ounces) shelled peanuts (unsalted)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Optional additions: honey, pitted dates, molasses, maple syrup

If the peanuts are raw, heat the oven to 350°F. Spread the peanuts across a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring once or twice, for about 12 minutes, until the peanuts are deep golden brown and fragrant. (If the peanuts were already roasted to begin with, warm them in a large skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the oils come to the surface.)

While the toasted nuts are still warm, transfer them to the bowl of a food processor or blender fitted with a metal blade.

Pulse to roughly chop. If you'd like to make chunky peanut butter, remove about ¼ cup of chopped nuts and set them aside for stirring in at the end. Continue blending the peanuts for 1 minute. Stop the machine and use a spatula to scrape down the sides and across the bottom. Blend for another minute. Scrape again. Blend for 2 - 3 minutes more, until the peanut butter is creamy. Add the salt and any additional ingredients of your choosing. Blend to combine. At this point, stir in any reserved chopped peanuts.

Store the peanut butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should keep for at least 2 months.

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