I took a couple of native edibles workshops given by Jolie Egert of Go Wild Consulting in the last few months, and one of the more interesting things she had for us to sample was a surprising chocolate-like substance that was made from the seed of the fruit off of California Bay trees. There are LOTS of these trees around, so I devoted a mellow bike ride a couple of weeks ago to pick up roadside bay fruits for experimentation.
The fruit itself is pretty nasty (I tasted), but the nuts inside were what I was really after. After removing all the squishy bits, I tossed the nuts into the oven on a cookie sheet and started to roast them. After a few minutes, there was a bizarre noise -- the shells had started to crack and as a result, nuts were bouncing everywhere in the oven. I had to put a piece of foil on top to restrain the little buggers.
Fun toasty smells ensued. After about 30 minutes, I pulled them out and shelled them, as they had started to brown and I didn't want to overdo it. At this point, I sampled one of the darker ones. Mmmm. Interesting toasty, slightly bitter, nutty flavor with underlying complexity reminiscent of chocolate. Chopped up, these would make a nice garnish on a number of things.
Unfortunately, not all of them were quite as brown. I think on average they were under-roasted, but didn't realize this until after grinding them all up in the food processor into a paste and adding some powdered sugar and dry milk. The paste looked promising, but had a vile sort of sour, leafy aftertaste. What am I doing eating weird plants anyway????
What to do, what to do? Clearly there were some flavor components that should have been roasted all the way out, but weren't. I didn't want to toss the sludge into the oven at high temperature, lest I end up with a horrible burnt sugar mess, so I put in a pot on the stove on low heat, hoping that the weird flavor components would be volatile enough to come out with gentle heating. After half an hour, it was clear that this was improving things, but slowly.
I left the goo on low heat on the stove all day, occasionally stirring and tasting it, until the acidic aftertaste was gone. Yay. Another miraculous recovery. (So many things in our kitchen need magic recovery treatments...)
The resulting substance is interesting. Sort of nutty, sort of chocolatey, with a lot of underlying flavor complexity. It's gooey at just over room temperature, but completely solid at refrigerator temperature.
I took part of it and made pinwheel cookies, which all three of us like. Even the kid deems them yummy!
Bay Nut Pinwheel Cookies (base dough recipe from my friend Sarah)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
beat on medium until fluffy and well blended
11 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
gradually beat in until well combined
3 oz cream cheese softened and cut into chunks
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp lemon zest
Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Divide dough in half.
Mix 4-6 oz sweetened bay nut goo into half of the dough (pick the amount that tastes good to you)
Refrigerate until slightly firm (1 hour). Roll out each half of the dough into a rectangle (very sticky, so do this between sheets of wax paper with a liberal dusting of flour), stack the rectangles, and roll them into a log. Roll the log up in wax paper twisting the ends.
Freeze for at least 3 hours (or up to a month)
To bake, place 1/8 inch thick slices on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 7-11 minutes until tinged with brown at the edges.
11/21/2011: a better roast on the next batch