If you have ever baked with hazelnuts, you’ve probably rubbed off the dark papery skins. This process is technically called “decorticating.” While it may sound unpleasant, it simply means taking the hulls off, mostly from nuts or seeds. In the jar of hazelnuts at right, you’ll see that one nut on the left side hasn’t been decorticated, but all the rest have. The dry, papery brown hulls are slightly bitter tasting, so many recipes call for rubbing them off before using the nuts.
Yes, this is a bit tedious, but toasting the nuts loosens the hulls so they’ll flake away when rubbed between the hands or in a clean tea towel. It’s not necessary to remove every bit of hull.
Some suppliers sell decorticated, or blanched, hulled hazelnuts, and, of course, this recipe will go together more quickly with them. (Just skip the toasting and hulling steps, and go right to the chopping direction in the recipe.)
Several on-line venders carry hazelnuts already toasted, decorticated and ready-to-use. Some gourmet and health food stores do, too, but call and ask before you make a trip. (When I find them, I buy in bulk and freeze the extras so they’ll be on hand.)
Hazelnut-Honey Caramel Bars
This recipe is from my All-American Cookie Book and was created by Portland, Oregon native Maureen McCarthy. The taste of hazelnuts, caramel and chocolate is completely irresistible, and the chewy-brittle texture of the bars is, too. I can’t emphasize enough just how delectable these are!
Tip: If the idea of slipping a little whole wheat flour into baked goods appeals to you, it will work well in this recipe. Try using half white flour and half (3/4 cup each) white whole wheat flour. This product is milder and lighter in color that regular whole wheat flour. (The King Arthur brand is available nationally.)
- 2 cups (10 ounces) whole hazelnuts, divided
- Crust Layer
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, slightly softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1½ cups unbleached all purpose white flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- Generous ¼ teaspoon salt
- Honey Caramel Layer
- ½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- ½ cup clover honey or other mild honey
- 6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1½- 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13- by 9-inch flat baking dish with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to overhang the two narrow end slightly.
- To decorticate the hazelnuts: Spread them in a rimmed baking pan and toast, stirring every 4 minutes, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the hulls loosen and the nuts lightly brown. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Rub the nuts between your hands or in a clean kitchen towel, loosening and discarding as much hull as possible. In a food processor or by hand, chop the nuts moderately fine; set aside.
- For the dough: Reset the oven to 375 degrees F. Beat together the butter, sugar, and egg on medium speed until lightened and fluffy, about 2 minutes. In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat or stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth. Turn out the dough into the baking dish. Using the hands, press the dough firmly into the baking pan. Lay a sheet of wax paper over the dough. Press down and smooth out to the edges to form a smooth, evenly-thick layer. Carefully peel off the paper and discard. Bake (middle oven rack) for 13 to 17 minutes, or until tinged with brown all over and slightly darker at the edges. Set aside.
- For the caramel layer: Reset the oven back to 350 degrees F. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, stir in the honey, brown sugar, and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly, If testing doneness with a candy thermometer, clip it to the pan side, adjusting the tip so it is inserted into the mixture but not touching the pan bottom; if testing doneness using ice water, set out a small cup of water and add 3 ice cubes. Cook, briskly, but not hard, for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of gravy and darkens slightly. (If you use a candy thermometer it should register about 245 degrees F on the thermometer. To check doneness with ice water, drop about ½ teaspoon into the water, and let stand about 20 seconds; when squeezed, the mixture should form a soft ball that flattens out upon removal from the water.) Be careful, as the caramel is very hot. Immediately remove from the heat. Stir in a generous ¾s of the hazelnuts and the vanilla.
- To bake: Pour the caramel-nut mixture over the dough, spreading evenly to the edges. Bake for 13 to 18 minutes, or until nicely browned and bubbly all over. Remove from the oven, and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the top. Let stand a few minutes until the chocolate melts. Smooth it out a bit; it won’t completely cover the top. Sprinkle the remaining hazelnuts over the top.
- Refrigerate until cooled and slightly firm (to make cutting easier); if the bars are fully chilled they will become brittle and hard to cut. Lift the foil and cookie slab from the pan. Peel off the foil, and transfer the slab to a cutting board. Trim away and discard the over-baked edges all the way around; then cut into fourths lenghtwise and eighths crosswise for small bars (or as desired). The bars will keep, airtight, for up to 10 days. Wrapped airtight, they may also be frozen for 2 months.