Do you like hazelnuts, also known as filberts? Before you say, “what are those?” or “why would anyone name something a filbert?” or “nah,” think Nutella (the chocolate-hazelnut spread) or gelato nocciola (Italian-style hazelnut ice cream.)
Hazelnut skins are bitter, so you have to remove them before using hazelnuts in baking or cooking. The few times I’ve made a recipe with hazelnuts, I toasted them at 375 degrees, then rubbed the skin off. It works, but I had frustrations with the method. It turns out there is another way to remove hazelnut skins – boiling the nuts in water and baking soda, then moving them to ice cold water and slipping their skins off. Which method is best?
The answer is simple – there are trade-offs and which method is best for you depends on what matters most to you and what you’re willing to do to achieve perfection. Here are the specifics and a comparison of the 2 methods.
Two Methods to Skin or Peel Hazelnuts
Method 1 – Toasting
- Oven or toaster oven
- Clean dishtowel
- Pre-heat oven or toaster oven to 350-375 degrees. (Most sources I consulted use 375, but I find that is too high. One of my go-to resource for Italian cooking, Domenica Marchetti, just posted a fabulous looking recipe for a hazelnut torte on her blog in which she recommends skinning the nuts by toasting them at 350 degrees.)
- Toast the hazelnuts until they are fragrant but not burned, generally 8-12 minutes.
- Rub the toasted hazelnuts vigorously in the dishtowel. The skin comes off in scraps and the process takes 1-2 minutes. (A paper towel won’t work well, although you can use one to remove additional skin after you’re done with the vigorous rubbing phase.)
Method 2 – Boiling
- Large pot (with water and baking soda)
- Slotted spoon
- Bowl (of ice water)
- Pan or plate lined with paper towels or a clean dishtowel
- Set the bowl of ice water near the stovetop. Boil 1½ cups of water per ½ cup (slightly less than 60 grams) of hazelnuts in a large pot.
- Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the water. (It will bubble up – which is a good test to see if your baking soda is fresh and also why you shouldn’t use a small pot.)
- Add the hazelnuts and let them boil for 3 minutes. The water will darken.
- Test a single hazelnut by removing it from boiling water, plunging it in the ice water and trying to slip the skin off. If it doesn’t come off, give the hazelnuts another minute or so in the boiling water. When the test hazelnut skin slips off, remove all the hazelnuts and one-by-one, slip off their skins. If you don’t like working in the ice water, you can move to the sink and run warm water over the hazelnuts as you work.
- Lay the peeled hazelnuts out on paper towels to dry.
Toasting vs. Boiling Off Hazelnut Skins
Efficiency/Results Trade-off – Toasting is 2-step. It takes less time than boiling, but is not completely effective. I find it difficult to get the hazelnuts toasted enough to remove the skins, but not burned. The nuts are (obviously) toasted once you rub the skins off. Boiling is 100% effective and the skins slip off easily. However, you have to work on each hazelnut individually. A ½ cup of hazelnuts is approximately 35 nuts. It took me about 5 minutes to skin that many hazelnuts. With boiling, the process is at least 3 steps (boil, ice water bath, dry) and 4 if you want to toast the nuts afterward. But you can control the toasting process better than the toasting method once the skins are off, which matters if you want lightly toasted nuts. It’s also the method of choice if you want the nuts to be raw when you use them. Boiled hazelnuts may be slightly less crunchy (after drying) than if they were only toasted and rubbed.
Equipment – Toasting dirties a dishtowel. I’ve seen complaints online that it difficult to remove dark shadows on the cloth from the skins but I haven’t had that problem. Boiling requires cleaning a pot and a bowl.
The bottom line – Both methods work. I’m obsessive about results and tend to burn things, so the boiling method works better for me. But if you’re pressed for time, careful when you toast, and don’t mind some stray skins on your hazelnuts, toasting may be your better option.