Many snack producers and wholesale bakeries make restaurant-style desserts, but how do you to make indulgent sweet goods just like the best in the business?Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine interviewed Harbinder Maan, manager, North America ingredient and category marketing, for Almond Board of California (ABC), Modesto, Calif., and talked about celebrity chefs, creating high-end desserts and, of course, almonds.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery: How are almonds and other inclusions being incorporated into high-end desserts and sweet goods?

Harbinder Maan: Some examples that ABC has recently spotted include Wolfgang Puck lent his celebrity flair to a classic Pear Almond Tartlet. Modern upscale Latin cuisine chain Rosa Mexicano features Mexican Flan with Toasted Almond Cake Chef John Csukor, ABC’s culinary expert, created a Spiced Almond Cake with cranberry and orange compote, zabaglione and crushed almonds

We’re also seeing Ile Flottante, a classic French dessert, on a number of menus across the country. Most notably, chef Thomas Keller is featuring his version with vanilla creme anglaise, almond and caramel on the menu at the brand new Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills. Bistro Citron in New York, Lilly’s French Café and Bar in Los Angeles, Chez Catherine in New Jersey, Rue Franklin in Buffalo and Le Charm French Bistro in San Francisco are also picking up on this trend.

In the past two to three years, ABC has seen an explosion of French macarons appearing in American pastry shops (and now even packaged goods, such as the ones launched at Starbucks), suggesting that this traditional application of almond flour is gaining new recognition and appreciation in the United States and other countries outside of France. In fact, macarons were recently dubbed “the ‘it’ treat” (replacing cupcakes) by Fortune magazine.

Some general background about how almonds may be used for bakery/pastry items:

Almonds are available in more processed forms than almost any other nut. Kernels can be cut into different desired shapes or pieces, such as slices, slivers, dice, half or split, ground, paste, butter, etc. Each type of cut can have different thickness or particle size. Natural cut forms with the skins on are appealing choices to complement light-colored food products. Furthermore, most almond varieties can be easily blanched to remove the skins prior to further cutting. These creamy white cut forms are perfect options to complement darker colored food products. All manufactured forms, including whole and cut, can be further roasted by hot air or oil to enhance their crunch and flavor.

Once almonds are processed into various forms, pastry/dessert professionals can use them in many ways.

SF&WB:How do these applications differ from what had been available over the past few years ago? Please suggest some other unique uses.

Maan: Whereas desserts of past years may have been chosen by consumers purely for their pleasurable flavors and textures, consumers these days are increasingly looking for foods that multitask … that do more than just have good flavor and texture.

So why do consumers choose almonds? Taste and nutrition, according to ABC’s Consumer AAU study, 2008. That means when professionals include California almonds in any of their products or recipes, they’re also adding a wealth of nutritious benefits that millions of customers are seeking. When compared ounce for ounce, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein (6g), fiber (3.5g), calcium (75mg), vitamin E (7.4mg), riboflavin (0.3mg) and niacin (1mg).

For techniques and inspirations, pastry professionals are encouraged to visit “Almonds, Healthy Baking and Desserts: Tasting the Future,” a free online resource from the Culinary Institute of America at

SF&WB: What are bakers doing to be creative with producing high-end desserts containing fruits and nuts? How are they differentiating their products from the competition?

Maan:Almonds have long been a part of classic European baking, especially French patisserie, and as of 2008 have achieved status as the No. 1 nut in new confectionery and bakery products worldwide. In fact, more than 20 classic French pastries require almonds to be truly authentic – and this is a point of differentiation from other kinds of pastries/desserts. In celebration of this, ABC introduced the descriptive term Amanderie during its first-ever sponsorship of the World Pastry Cup in 2009.

Amanderie is the founding specialty of innovating classic almond applications in bakery, patisserie and artisan chocolate. The term blossoms from the French words amande, for almond, and patisserie, an art renowned all over the world. It is all about experimenting and creating an element of surprise within a dish. Additionally, it’s about the art of creating new categories of almond indulgence by combining familiar roots and inventive new sensory experiences.

To be within Amanderie’s scope, patisserie creations must meet a set of high standards, including obsessive attention to detail and finish; trend-setting and innovative applications; a premium high-quality result; a commitment to excellence in technique, and the exclusive use of California Almonds as the nut of choice

At the extreme end of the creativity spectrum, pastry chefs are innovating with almonds using molecular gastronomy techniques. One example that ABC saw in 2009 was a dish called “Nocturnes, Op. 27, No.1 in C-Sharp Minor” created by pastry chef Jordan Kahn of Michael Mina’s XIV restaurant in Los Angeles. He employed techniques including the use of low-acylgellan gum to thicken almond milk and create a thin, delicate tuile. The multi-component plated dessert also included a traditional French cake with almond flour that is baked and cooled, then placed in a desiccator where it is left to dry for 12 hours. It is then placed in a vacuum bag with almond milk, then compressed, thus rehydrated with the almond milk, producing a moist, delicate cake flavored with almond milk.

SF&WB: What types of challenges, such as food safety, do bakers face when working with fruits and nuts? What is being done to overcome these challenges?

Maan: In terms of food safety, the California almond industry has implemented a mandatory pasteurization regulation on the almonds consumed within North America since September 2007. This regulation ensures that all almond products are treated by a validated process prior to consumption. The treatment can be completed via a California almond handler treatment plan or a direct verifiable plan by food manufacturers. Either plan requires that almonds must undergo a process that has been validated by an ABC-appointed process authority to meet pasteurization requirement.
SF&WB: What new nutritional functionalities are being pursued for fruits and nuts?

Maan: Ongoing research hypothesizes that almonds may have a prebiotic effect that can provide benefits supportive of your gastrointestinal tract in maintaining immunity and overall well being.

The human gut or gastrointestinal tract (GI) plays a key role in promoting overall health, with approximately 80% of immunity starting there. (Rosenbaum, 2008) It’s also where prebiotics and probiotics come into play. Prebiotics are non-digestible food substances that act as food for “good” bacteria in the GI tract while probiotics are friendly bacteria that feed on fiber, fat and other nutrients. (Get the Facts, 2008) (Roberfroid, 2000)

So what’s all this about “good” bacteria? There are both “good” and “bad” bacteria in the GI tract, and the human body is in a constant balancing act, trying to ensure that there are perfect amounts of each. (Get the Facts, 2008) Prebiotics are crucial in this process because they provide energy for some of the friendly bacteria needed for a healthy gut.

And while almonds have not yet been proven to have a prebiotic effect, this is just one more reason for consumers to bring more of them into their daily routine. Because when our body functions better, we feel better, and that’s the most important thing.

SF&WB: What are the most common mistakes when working with nuts?

Maan:Because of their fat content, nuts – if not stored and handled properly – can go rancid. Food professionals, however, can be confident about working with almonds. Almonds are a low-moisture nut with inherent protection from a high level of natural antioxidants: tocopherols in almond meats and polyphernolics in almond skins.

In addition, the proper ratio of fatty acid composition makes almonds less susceptible to oil oxidation than other nuts high in oil content. All these attributes make almonds a shelf-stable snack product and ingredient. Like any other foods or ingredients, shelf life of almond products may be affected by storage conditions such as temperature, humidity and presence of oxygen. A recently completed research project with the U.S. military confirmed that several almond forms have at least a three-year shelf life under vacuum packaging and room temperature.

Another ABC-funded project has confirmed that natural whole almonds have at least a two-year shelf life under retailer packaging (semi-permeable plastic bags) and ambient conditions.