Tuesday August 14, 2012
This Recipe is the Pits
We don’t need dessert. I mean, of course we need dessert, but we don’t cut a fat slice of layer cake for the vitamins and minerals, ya know? We eat dessert to indulge. That halo of luxury has a habit of extending itself all the way to the ingredients, leading us to believe the more we splurge on top notch ingredients, the more delicious the results.
It sounds like a totally rational theory until you remember bread pudding and the market value of stale baguette. Or the culinary gold mine found in half rotten bananas. Money can buy single estate chocolate, high end spices and vanilla beans, but the deliciousness born of thrift is not to be trifled with. Well, unless you’re making trifle.
I have a special place in my heart for the kitchen scraps people often think of as trash: egg whites and brownie crumbles, bits of biscuit dough, broken macarons, corn cobs and peach pits.
Using these things satisfies my deep seated urge to
hoard save, but since it keeps food cost down, an official part of my job, no one judges me for it. Beyond that, I love the unexpected creativity these “bonus ingredients” inspire, the new life they give to recipes I’ve made a hundred times before. They remind me I can do more to make a dessert better than simply throwing money at it.
Right now, I’ve got crates of Kentucky peaches showing up at the restaurant every week. Part of using them to their fullest means, aside from straight-up peach desserts, making peach pit and noyau desserts too. When I tweeted a menu update about peach pit panna cotta, I received a flood of replies along the lines of omg, cyanide. Since I couldn’t explain the situation in 140 characters, I promised to blog about it and here I go.
Peach, apricot, cherry and plum pits all contain a delicious little almond-flavored kernel inside their hard shells. The French pitch the pits and keep the kernel, calling it noyau. They use it to make all kinds of super tasty things like marzipan, amaretto and (surprise) almond extract. Sometimes restaurants use “apricot pit” or “peach pit” as a euphemism for noyau, an unfamiliar word to most customers, which only adds to the confusion. The pit holds the kernel, but they’re as different as walnut shells and walnuts.
The knee-jerk omg cyanide reaction seemingly everyone responds with isn’t entirely unfounded. Noyaux contain a substance called amygdalin, which breaks down during digestion to become sinister hydro-cyanic acid. Given the chance, a hundred grams of raw stone fruit kernels would produce about 160 milligrams of cyanide. Probably the most over-hyped, shrug-worthy food risk on the planet when you consider a hundred grams of black beans would produce 400 milligrams of cyanide (thanks, dusty copy of Food and Nutritional Toxicology). As with those deadly black beans, cooking the pits causes a breakdown of the harmful substances and renders them safe for consumption, which is why your game of Clue doesn’t come with tiny pewter noyaux along with the wrench and candlestick.
Now, back to the pits. The French toss ‘em after they pluck out the kernel, Americans pitch them after eating the fruit, and BraveTart thinks they make a great case for saving the best for last. Peach pits (and apricot and cherry pits) are crazy delicious, please, please, please don’t throw yours away.
They have a mild, intriguingly nutty flavor and a hint of whatever fruit they rode into town with. If you can pair the final product with something you make from the fruit itself, all the better (people wage wars over things less amazing than peach pit ice cream over peach pie).
You don’t even have to crack the pits open to extract their flavor, which makes them a lot less annoying to harvest than the noyaux. Major bonus. Like vanilla beans, you can steep the pits in any liquid to transform whatever recipe you like into something a little more magical.
Steep the pits in water and then use it to make tea or sorbet. Steep them in milk and then use it to make a cake. Flavor the dairy for panna cotta or ice cream or toss the pits in the pot with your next batch of steel cut oats. Toss some in a bottle of your favorite liquor to spruce up your summer cocktails. Once you start thinking of ways to use the pits, all of your favorite recipes seem like prime candidates for pit-ification.
Sharing a single recipe for pits (peach or otherwise) can’t cover the scope of their use as an ingredient. There’s no one recipe for vanilla beans, right? So rather than give you one measly recipe, I’ll cover the technique instead.
You just need one peach pit for every two ounces of liquid (eight pits per pint) and a little time. Bring the milk, cream, water, liquor, coconut milk, whatever to a simmer along with the pits, then shut off the heat and let them steep for two hours, or overnight in the fridge (a la crazy banana ice cream).
Steeping overnight makes the liquid exponentially more flavorful, which isn’t to say the shorter steep is in any way inferior. It depends on how intense you’d like the flavor and whether or not you want the fruit pit’s flavor in a starring or supporting role.
For cake or ice cream, any recipe with eggs or other strongly flavored ingredients, a longer steep time will give the pits’ flavor a chance to stand out. For simpler dessert, a panna cotta or sorbet, the shorter steep time will work just fine. Simply taste the steeping liquid. If the flavor seems weak, keep going.
Whether you go for two or twenty four hours, after the steep time is up, return the liquid to a simmer and strain (cold liquid will cling to the pits). If you’re flavoring a liquor, you can just strain without reheating. If you’re making a cake, you’ll need to chill the liquid back down to room temp or cooler before proceeding. For custard recipes, simply proceed with the recipe as normal.
Now that you’ve used up the pits themselves, you can get at the noyaux by roasting the pits in a 400° oven for 30 minutes or so to dry them back out. Whack ‘em up with a hammer or break out your fancy nutcracker, open up the shells and pick out the kernels. Roast the kernels/noyaux another 15 minutes to make sure you’ve destroyed the amygdalin, then use the noyaux as you would any roasted nut.
Voila. Magical recipes, thrifty baking and no reason to accuse Colonel Mustard, in the kitchen, with the peach pits…
47 comments and counting
Aug 15, 2012 · 9:19 AM
@missmeisy, oh, are you down under?
@Christina, absolutely! As the fruits differ from each other, I imagine the pits do too and you may find you like the flavor of some better than others. But there’s only one way to find out!
@Ellen, haha, right? I need more pits than I have peaches right now to do all of the experiments I’d like to try.
@jess, I have not (simply because it would take a fairly astronomical number of pits to get 4 ounces of kernels). I have every reason to believe they’d work out just fine in the recipe, though; since you’re not baking for a crowd, you could make a half batch too. Let me know if you try!
@Adrienne, hurray! I’m glad to save a few pits from the trash, if I can.
Aug 15, 2012 · 9:23 AM
this post is so awesome! i concur one time, one of my peach pits had already cracked, and i took the “almond” out from the middle..and bit into it =x then thought hmmm maybe they use this for almond extract! alas, they do. i never knew that you could just steep the pits in stuff to infuse flavor w/o cracking them, though..THANKS! this is so resourceful. i can’t wait for your cookbook.
Aug 15, 2012 · 9:42 AM
As one of the cyanide alarmists, I’m delighted by this post. I’ve been fed raw kernels from apricots before, and I am not dead. I’m totally intrigued, and look forward to trying some of these ideas out.
· Susan · www.susaneatslondon.com
Aug 15, 2012 · 9:45 AM
Awesome! I dont think I will ever throw out a pit again! LOL I can’t wait to give this a try.
· Deb @ knitstamatic · knitstamatic.wordpress.com
Aug 15, 2012 · 10:42 AM
Wow, i cannot believe you can use these for flavor. I’d always heard about the kernels being used ( and the theory about their cancer preventing goodness/over exaggeration about cyanide levels), but not about using the pits. I’ll be lining up with missmeisy for some amazing, pitty goodness this summer.
Aug 15, 2012 · 10:44 AM
@prpltrmpt, they’re so tasty, right?! An adult would have to eat about 15 raw kernels to suffer any harm, so there’s no worry at all in sampling one or two to see how they taste! But as with nuts, roasting brings out a better flavor anyway.
@Susan, haha. You survived! Glad to put your mind at ease. Enjoy your baking experiments!
@Deb, they keep well in the fridge too, so if you’re just eating peaches one at a time, you can save up the pits all week to make something later.
@Jade, Mr. BraveTart teases me quite a bit for our freezer full of little plastic baggies of odds n ends, but the complaining stops when I whip out biscuit scraps for last minute cobbler topping.
@Jaysains, yeah that anti-cancer business is a load of bunk. Fortunately, the deliciousness is 100% true. Enjoy!
Aug 15, 2012 · 2:13 PM
My mind is reeling from the sheer number of possible uses for pits. You continue to amuse, astound and teach me! Thanks Stella!
· saltandserenity · www.saltandserenity.com
Aug 15, 2012 · 2:31 PM
What an awesome post… As usual, you rock Stella! Thanks
· SamCyn · samcynsedibledelights.com
Aug 15, 2012 · 2:37 PM
Sooo…the cyanide is destroyed by heat. How much heat? And how many mg does it take to cause harm? I make an awesome cherry liqueur every year from sour cherries steeped whole in a vodka/sugar mixture. But it is never heated! One year, a few people blamed their extreme hangovers on New Year’s on my “cyanide surprise” (I give the liqueur as xmas gifts). Any thoughts on how much cyanide might actually be in there? Is the almondy flavor the cyanide actually or is it just associated with it? I have made this without the pits before and it makes an enormously inferior drink…but people have bottles of the stuff sitting in their cabinets out of fear that I am poisoning them. (FWIW I am a personally a very light drinker, so I did not experience the crazy hangover of 2010. I think it’s more likely the Aperol/Champagne cocktail they were all quaffing that caused the problem.)
Aug 15, 2012 · 2:39 PM
I am pretty gleeful at using trash to create food myself—especially in the homemade broth category—but I’ve never heard of using peach pits for anything edible! (Just gas masks.) Very intriguing!
· Eileen · http://hampiesandwiches.blogspot.com
Aug 15, 2012 · 4:25 PM
Wonderful post! I too am up to my elbows with peaches at work, and I keep meaning to set aside some pits to do something with the noyaux, but frankly after an 8 hour peach-peeling stint, I’m not in the mood for any more peaches.
But you’ve inspired me— I love being reminded that every part of these gorgeous fruits are valuable and tasty, if only I would stop for a moment and be considerate. I love the idea of steeping the whole pit. Lovely post, thank you!
· Sara at The Cozy Herbivore · thecozyherbivore.blogspot.com
Aug 15, 2012 · 6:21 PM
@kateg, super old-timey recipes for jam always mention using up the kernels, but it’s a practice that’s fallen away for most modern recipes. Way to go!!
@ann hazelett, zero arsenic. As I understand it, arsenic is not produced by any foods, but it shows up in them from time to time due to environmental conditions like volcanic ash or contaminated water, etc.
@saltandserenity, haha, mission accomplished then!
@SamCyn, thank you!
@Kelly, I am no chemist or food safety expert but my understanding is that unless you’ve cracked the cherry pits, the kernels inside are protected from exposure by the pit itself. The pit is flavorful and, as I’ve written about above, that is what’s flavoring your liquor rather than the kernel, which is tucked safely inside. That being said, I don’t know what sort of leeching (if any) may occur over the long term.
The amount of amygdalin contained by various stone fruits varies from fruit to fruit, but in the case of peach pits, an adult would have to eat approximately 15 raw kernels to suffer any ill effects.
What might be an issue is if the fruits were insufficiently washed and harbored any residual pesticides or possibly bacteria, that could certainly be passed on in the liquor. I hope that info gives you a little more to go on!
@Eileen, wait, what?! Gas masks?!
@Sara, I hear that! The peach pits are a great alternative, since getting the noyaux is so labor intensive. But after a while, you get sick of all of it. Thank goodness seasonal fruit is so transient!
Aug 15, 2012 · 11:24 PM
I’m on the bench with the cancer thing. It makes sense ( B17 levels, laetrile etc) found in kernels, and their effect on the bodies pH levels (a much more alkaline base in which cancers struggle to survive). Either way My conclusion is they can only be good for you (and tasty) regardless. Definitely nothing to be afraid of.
Aug 16, 2012 · 9:38 AM
@Stella—thanks for the input! My cherries come from our own trees, so no pesticides or other industrial weirdness there. And they steep for six weeks or so. Does that count as long term? And wouldn’t the vodka pretty much take care of any bacteria? Well, now I am thinking it’s harmless, and NYE hangovers come from drinking too much, not from drinking cherry liqueur. I mean, there were three or four of them (including DH) that went through a 1L bottle, in addition to the aforementioned Aperol/Champagne, and random wine and beer.
Aug 16, 2012 · 9:56 AM
And, for further reading on this subject there’s this. http://www.artofdrink.com/archive/research/cyanide-in-apricot-cherries-pits/
He basically does say (in the comments in Part 2) that my unpitted cherries are not much of a risk. But crushed pits are most definitely a problem. (Particularly relevant for anyone trying to make homemade bitter almond extract.)
Aug 16, 2012 · 7:45 PM
@Kelly, that’s really funny, I was going to send you that link! I found it googling around looking for a better answer for you.
@Debs, oh, let me know how it turns out! I’d never heard of “mahleb” before, but I do loves some cherry pits. Handy that you don’t have to pit them yourself!
Aug 16, 2012 · 9:45 PM
I feel as though I have just been slapped across the face with this amazing information. I have never once heard of this,—the magical findings inside a peach. This really is facinating. I can not wait to to try this out. Thank you so much for sharing!
· Rachel · thegirlwiththecupcaketattoo.com
Aug 16, 2012 · 11:20 PM
There’s an “almond milk” you can get at some Chinese restaurants which is really made with Chinese apricot … uh, well, I don’t know if they’re kernels or pits, really! But it’s delicious, and I like it more than the wimpy American “almond milk” which is just a pale imitation of cow’s milk. Of course, it’s got sugar added, but it’s so yummy and makes a great light dessert soup.
Aug 17, 2012 · 9:24 AM
@Rachel, a veritable knowledge bomb, I tell ya! Have fun experimenting and turning your favorite recipes all pitty.
@Clarissa, holy crap, I’ve been going to the wrong Chinese restaurants. That sounds amazing! I’ve read that peach pits and kernels have a historical significance in Chinese medicine too, I wonder if it’s some delicious remedy for something…
Aug 20, 2012 · 5:53 PM
awesomesauce. I know this is underwhelming compared to cake and ice cream, but I’m thinking of steeping some now for my morning oatmeal milk. Nectarine-pit-flavored-almondmilk? yummm
· Kate · www.katesshortandsweets.com
Aug 21, 2012 · 5:17 PM
Kate, I am not underwhelmed (I’m whelmed?), that sounds delicious!!
Aug 24, 2012 · 7:32 PM
I made apricot pit ice cream because of you. Steeped the pits for 48 hours in heavy cream (in fridge) then made that into a custard and churned. Best ice cream I’ve ever made. Ridiculously goregous pale gold color.Thank you for the inspiration….again!
· fatpiginthemarket · www.fatpiginthemarket.com
Aug 24, 2012 · 7:37 PM
Now I’m having an apricot pit fit. Could I simmer the pits in butter then recool the butter to use in a pastry recipe that uses chilled butter?
· fatpiginthemarket · www.fatpiginthemarket.com
Aug 25, 2012 · 3:40 PM
Stella, if you’ve ever watched “10 Things I Hate About You,” you know “whelmed” is totally a word
· Kate · www.katesshortandsweets.com
Aug 25, 2012 · 6:19 PM
@fatpiginthemarket, I am so, so, so happy to hear it!! Yay ice cream!! That’s great. I think you could definitely steep the pits in butter, although it probably won’t suit for things that need the butter to be creamed (I have a feeling the texture of the butter will be odd later), but in anything where the butter is melted I think it would work with no problem. Although, who knows, it may all work without any problem! Let me know if you try it out.
@Nonie, you are so welcome! That sounds incredibly delicious, enjoy!
@Kate, deep dark secret: I’ve never seen it!!
Sep 02, 2012 · 7:46 PM
Wow, who knew? As I was reading my first thoughts were to flavor ice cream. I’ve steeped coffee beans in cream/milk to pull out their flavor for ice cream. Now stone fruits? I always learn something here. Thank you.
· Lisa@TheDecorGirl · www.decorgirl.net
Sep 03, 2012 · 7:19 PM
You’re welcome, Lisa! There are so many things you can steep in cream, from over ripe bananas to coffee beans (as you discovered) and even peach pits. Have fun experimenting in the kitchen.
Sep 03, 2012 · 10:19 PM
Thanks for the information from Food and Nutritional Toxicology. I have read all kinds of warnings about cyanide in pits. I want to make “almond” extract using peach/nectarine pits. Your information leads me to believe that this can be done safely. Do you have any advice for making really good extract?
Sep 03, 2012 · 10:51 PM
Hi Nancy. I don’t really have any experience with it to share, I’m afraid. In my own baking, I’ve always left the extracts to the pros since I think the types of techniques they have access to (steam distillation or pressure distillation) yield such a better extract than anything I might replicate at home. I don’t mean to discourage you from trying, only to explain why I haven’t tried it before. If you do give it a shot, you’ll have to let me know how it turns out!
Sep 08, 2012 · 10:28 AM
I so appreciate the information on peach pits. I recall my Gramma Jesse Miller slamming peach pits with a hammer in our basement one time and making the most scrumptuous peach jam with the chopped nuts. I shall now do the same thing for my family for the first time, 60 years later.
Sep 09, 2012 · 2:00 PM
Hi Marg! It seems grandmothers are always on to the best food ideas. I hope your jam turns out fabulous!!
Sep 11, 2012 · 6:04 PM
hi..i infused some cream with peach pits and it came out wonderful…then I roasted the peach pits in a commercial convection oven at 400 for 30 minutes…they are hard as diamonds…I’ve tried a hammer and the nutcracker…managed to get one open but the rest won’t budge??? any suggestions.
Sep 12, 2012 · 8:55 AM
Yikes, tilliebaker! I’ve never had quite that much trouble, but I have heard of people wrapping them up in a towel, putting them on the floor and whacking away with a cast iron skillet or something. Hope you can crack the case!
Sep 15, 2012 · 10:20 PM
Every year, I make peach pit jelly. It is wonderful! This year I ended up with buckets of pits, so I froze what was left after making several batches of jelly. I am so glad I found this information, and I am really looking forward to trying new things with my pits, including peach pit ice cream. I was actually thinking about using some of them to flavor tea, or to make a spritzer.
Sep 16, 2012 · 12:57 PM
Letta, a peach pit spritzer sounds amazing!! You’ll have to let me know if you make it! Glad to help you use up all those pits.
Feb 03, 2013 · 9:48 AM
This is awesome! I’ve been poring over your site for about four days now and loving everything, but this totally prompted a comment. Thank you SO MUCH for clearing up the cyanide debate officially and citing a source (yay science!). I also really appreciate the depth you go into when explaining technique. I’ve learned over the years that even the most complicated things are mostly a matter of understanding proper technique (and practicing it, obviously), but for so many years, true pastry direction wasn’t available outside of culinary school. Thanks for mastering and sharing!
· Jourdie · www.purelysubjective.wordpress.com
Feb 03, 2013 · 2:32 PM
Hi Jourdie! Haha, yay science! I’d read a lot of conflicting info about noyaux and cyanide, and I knew if I wanted to serve those desserts at work I’d better find some clear cut answers. Happy to know my quest coincided with yours. Thanks for the kind words. Cheers!