There are certain foods that only seem to exist within the realm of plastic packaging and brand names. We get them off grocery store shelves and figure they could only come from some miracle of industrial production. We take it as a given that there's no way we could ever make something like, say, peanut butter. Making Jif has got to require special equipment, right? And if we really want to be involved in our peanut butter, well, there's that big machine at Whole Foods where we can grind our own by pulling a lever and watching roasted peanuts disappear into the whirring bowels of the grinder and ooze out as peanut butter into a plastic container. Which, let's admit it, feels pretty exciting. Like we're getting some pretty special peanut butter. Not to mention the fact that, with the Peanut Corporation of America currently under investigation for salmonella contamination, it's also probably the safest bet for your intestinal tract.
Nuttier than thou
But here's the thing: you don't need that machine to make good (salmonella free!) peanut butter. You certainly don't need a Jif factory. All you need is a food processor. With that and some peanuts, there's no reason to leave peanut butter relegated to plastic jars in Aisle Six. And it is not only possible to make your own peanut butter, it's ridiculously easy and fast to do so, not to mention delicious. Now be forewarned: if you only like the processed, super-smooth, hydrogenated kind of peanut butter, then you're probably better off sticking to the grocery story. But if you do make your own, you'll get a peanut butter as good as any store-bought natural peanut butter. It will be thick and grainy but still creamy and spreadable, with a deep, nutty flavor that's richer than the sugary name-brand stuff. It will stick to the roof of your mouth in the way that peanut butter does best, just asking for a glass of milk. And it only takes about five minutes. Here's how:
1 First you need the nuts. Any kind will do--salted, unsalted, even honey roasted if you like. Generally, a cup of nuts will grind down to about a half cup of butter.
2 Put the nuts in your food processor (and make sure you use a food processor as opposed to a blender, which is probably not hardy enough to do the job), along with a pinch of salt if the nuts aren't already salted. If you like your peanut butter a little sweet, add some sugar too. About a teaspoon of sugar per cup of nuts will do, but you can add more or less to taste.
3 Now turn the food processor on and start grinding. It will take about 3-4 minutes for the nuts to turn into peanut butter. At first they will grind down to a powder, and for a little while the mixture will seem very dry. For a moment it will seem like there can't possibly be enough liquid to form anything like peanut butter--don't despair. Just keep grinding and all of a sudden, like magic you'll see the paste start to liquefy. As the nuts are ground finer and finer, the oil will come out and blend the nuts into a soft consistency. Give it a little longer and you'll have creamy peanut butter. During this process you may want to stop the machine a few times and scrape down the sides to make sure everything gets processed. Other than that, just be patient. When it's finished, store your nut butter in a jar or plastic container. It should be fine stored at room temperature, but if you plan on using it up very slowly, you might want to keep it in the fridge.
Once you know how to do it, this recipe easily lends itself to experimentation. You don't, for instance, have to stick with peanuts. This process will work just as well with almost any kind of nuts or seeds. Try making almond butter, cashew butter, or pecan butter. You can even use sunflower seeds or pumpkins seeds if you like. When you start experimenting with different nuts, there are just a couple things to keep in mind.
First, many nuts (almonds, for example) are often sold raw. A butter made out of raw nuts will give you a lighter, more delicate flavor. For a deeper, richer flavor you'll have to toast the nuts yourself. To do so, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and put them in the oven (or toaster oven) at 350¬∞F for five to ten minutes. While they're toasting, check on the nuts regularly and give them an occasional stir to make sure they don't burn. When they start to smell roasted and nutty, take them out and let them cool a little before processing.
Also keep in mind that some nuts are oilier than others, which will affect how creamy the nut butter is. Macadamia nuts, for example, are so oily they'll give you something more like a liquid than a paste. Pistachios, on the other hand, are dry, and will produce something pretty crumbly. If, after sufficient grinding, you feel that your nut butter is still too dry, add a little oil to the mixture (any kind, although a neutral vegetable oil is best), one tablespoon at a time while the food processor is running. Let the machine run for a little after each addition, and continue until you get the consistency you want. Be careful though. There's no solution to an overly oily, liquid-y nut butter.
Now you've got something that's faster than the store, more interesting than Jif, and more exciting, even, than that big grinder at Whole Foods.
Marguerite Preston B'11 has arachibutyrophobia.
Try experimenting with flavors. After all, there's no reason to stick to plain nuts. You can try changing the sweetener, using honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. You can also add spices and play around with combinations, either sweet or savory. A few ideas to start with:
-Almond butter with honey and cinnamon
-Peanut butter with chili powder
-Pecan butter with maple syrup
-Homemade Nutella: hazelnut butter with cocoa powder
-and sugar, or with chopped chocolate
-Peanut butter with chocolate
-Pistachio butter with cardamom
-Walnut butter with rosemary