From the Pantry: Almonds

But thoughtful consumption of this delicious nut is well worth exploring, especially as a wonderful addition to your cooking and baking. With almonds around, you are always ready for any baking occasion. Need a gluten-free cake that is still moist and flavorful? Almond flour has your back. You can make any of a variety of tortes that use ground almonds instead of flour, and you can swap out some of the flour in your favorite cakes to lighten the texture. Almond extract is a little bottle of genius just sitting in your cupboard. It can enhance and deepen both chocolate and coffee desserts with just a few drops, and is necessary in any almond-forward dessert to really make almonds the star.

Two really versatile almond products to keep on hand for your baking are almond paste and marzipan. While they appear to be roughly the same (both essentially a mixture of almond flour, sugar, and water), they are actually very different. The ratio is everything. Since almond paste is an ingredient in other products, it contains a ratio of more almonds than sugar, and therefore is much less sweet and doesn’t overpower baked goods. Marzipan, on the other hand, is a candy dough with a higher sugar ratio, and is packaged to either be eaten on its own or to decorate other baked goods. There is some debate over who developed the mixture first. It could be Middle Eastern or Chinese in origin, but there are examples of it from as early as the 12th century. Whoever invented it, the Europeans adopted it as a means of creating fanciful candies, and to this day, in areas of Italy and France, there are confectioners who specialize in making photo-realistic miniature sculptures of fruits and vegetables, even small animals. The United Kingdom and parts of Scandinavia use it as a thin covering for cakes, much like fondant, where it adds flavor and keeps cakes fresher longer.

And no baker would be caught without sliced and slivered almonds to serve as excellent crunch factor in everything from sweet breads to streusel toppings and granola.

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