Acorns in the Kitchen
more on what Katie's been up to
I went from waiting for the acorns to fall, to having such a large supply I was overwhelmed with the possibilities. That, together with the onset of rainy days, left a lot of time for me to peel and process the acorns, and think up novel ways to use them. With Oana's help, the first thing I did was revisit the idea of the acorn butter. We decided that, while the resulting paste definitely needed to be spiced, we should find something subtle that complimented the acorns natural mild nuttiness instead of covering it up. We decided on just salt and olive oil, and ground up some anise seeds and caraway seeds. Of the two varieties, we liked the caraway mixture the best. The flavor turns out being very simple, with the caraway adding a slightly sweet taste to counter the tannin, without it being sugary. The butter was made of ground acorns still moist from their leaching, so they were easily made into a paste.
I wanted to see what would happen when the acorns were roasted and dehydrated. I put them in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350°F, and they came out crunchy; perfect for granola. I set some of the roasted acorns aside to provide some texture for the granola, and the rest I pulverized in the blender until it was a slightly oily meal. I mixed the whole nuts and the meal with sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, some cornmeal, cinnamon toasted oatmeal, and bound it all together with a maple syrup and a bit of olive oil. This went back into the oven for about a half hour. This mixture turned out great, and is my favorite thing I've made with the acorns so far. Although I was originally going to use some dried fruit,I think I like the simple nuts and seeds better. The one thing that can be improved upon is the addition of the roasted acorns;when the granola dries they become way to hard to chew. Next time all the acorns will be ground into a meal.
Having success with the granola, I wondered how hard it would be to make a bread from the moist acorn flour, like the consistency of banana bread. I found a simple recipe for acorn muffins online, and used that as a model. I made a paste from the freshly leached acorns, added an egg, some milk, vanilla, and some crushed up anise seeds and whipped it all together. This went into the oven for about a half hour, and I checked with a toothpick to make sure it was done. When it was baked, it looked very promising, soft, but kind of crunchy on the top. I decided to glaze the top with a mixture of sugar, yogurt and lemon (a failed fudge experiment;more on that later). This was probably the least successful of my concoctions. The lemon topping never quite "glazed" the way I imagined, and the bread part is very dense and mushy. It reminds me of an acorn bread pudding, and got the most negative feedback. I think my mistake was using acorns that weren't fully dried. Next time I make a bread or muffin or cookies, I will know to let the acorns fully dry out, instead of trying to cook with the paste.
Along with my adventures in acorns, I decided to use the afternoons to experiment with some different fudge recipes. Fudge is really easy, since its mostly sugar. The trick is getting the right consistency, which is mainly what I have been struggling with. The recipe is simply 1 part milk, 2 parts sugar, a couple tablespoons of vegetable shortening, and cocoa powder heated all together in a saucepan until the fudge makes a "softball" in a glass of cold water. Vanilla is added at the last minute while the fudge cools. The texture of fudge depends on the crystallization of the sugars,and so the faster it can cool down, the creamier it will be. We are lucky enough to have a candy making table, which is made of marble, and can draw the heat out of the fudge very quickly. I'm the first one to use the table, and I'm still getting the hang of working the candy and molding it into a uniform shape. My initial attempts at chocolate fudge yielded a great flavor and a perfect consistency, but in every batch I make, I can't get the fudge to stiffen into solid pieces. They are always a little to soft. I've thought about a couple of reasons for this. Maybe after I reach the softball stage I just need to cook the fudge for a few more minutes. Maybe instead of stirring the boiling mixture, I should just let it heat up without agitation. I've tried variations in the procedure, but hasn't yet made a difference.
Even though I obviously need practice to produce marketable fudge, I decided to experiment with different ingredients, just to see what the taste would be like. Walt brought home some yogurt and I substituted this for the goats milk I had been using. Instead of chocolate, I used lemon juice with the idea of making a white citrus fudge. I'm not sure if maybe the lemon juice made the mixture to liquid, but this candy just refused to set up. It stiffened a little bit when I put it in the fridge, making a custard. The flavor is good, if you like lemons, but I'm just not sure what to do to thicken it.
While I was in the mood for making candy, I decided to utilize the many mashed acorns I had. Along with the sugar, shortening and goats milk, I added the anise flavored acorn butter, a few sunflower seeds, and a touch of vanilla. I'm pretty sure that all the added solids messed with the boiling point, because the sugar never creamed up into a fudge. But it did make a pretty tasty candy that is more like a bark, or caramelized nuts. It has an intense flavor that I think would be great for a less healthy tasting cookie batter. I think acorn candy is definitely worth experimenting with.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68