Almond milk has gone mainstream. Bartenders now pour it into inventive cocktails, one San Francisco company will deliver it to your door, and chefs like Jody Adams of Boston's Rialto are replacing milk or cream with it anywhere the almond notes make sense, from savory cream sauces to dessert custards and muffins.
The many health benefits of almond milk include its low calorie count (40–60 per 8-ounce cup versus 130 for a cup of 2 percent milk) and its heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fat. This doesn't mean ready-made almond milk is a healthy choice. Commercially available almond milk often contains too much sodium, added sugar, and chemical preservatives and additives such as the thickener carrageenan.
The better answer is to make your own almond milk. At New York's Natural Gourmet Institute cooking school, nut milks from almonds, cashews, walnuts, and macadamia and Brazil nuts are whirred up fresh several times a day. Chef Richard LaMarita, who teaches at the institute, says instructors and students love almond and fattier cashew milk as a base for ice cream, flans, and puddings, foamy smoothies, custard pies, crepes – wherever dairy is normally used. Almond milk can be thickened by scalding (but not boiling) it or reducing the water content in the recipe. But LaMarita prefers blending in natural agar and kuzu root for smooth texture and creamy taste. Below is LaMarita's super quick recipe for rich, creamy almond milk.
Rich Almond Milk
Yield: About 3 cups
3 cups filtered tap water
1 1/2 cups blanched almonds (raw almonds without their skins; buy them, or soak almonds in boiling water for 1 minute, then slip off skins)
Optional: Pinch of sea salt
Optional sweetener: 1 tbsp honey, agave, maple syrup, or rice syrup; or 1–3 pitted dates, to taste
Optional flavoring: Scraped seeds from half a flexible vanilla bean cut open vertically or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cinnamon, or 1 tbsp high-quality cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- Boil water. Put almonds in a glass bowl. Pour water immediately over the almonds to cover. Let them steep for 30–40 minutes to soften enough to break down easily and release their flavor. (Alternatively, soak almonds in enough water to cover, for 8–10 hours; discard soaking water. Add boiling water; let cool slightly and proceed to Step 2.)
- Puree soaked almonds and water, preferably in a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix. If using pitted dates as a sweetener, add now. Start blender on low, then increase speed to the maximum and let it go for a minute. If using a standard home blender, blend almonds and water in batches, starting at low speed, then increasing to the highest setting; blend very well.
- Strain blended almonds into a pot or bowl through a nut bag, the metal mesh strainer of a coffeepot, or 4 layers of cheesecloth. If straining with a bag or cloth, gather top/ends and squeeze crushed almonds vigorously until no more milk comes out. When using coffee strainer, press on almonds with the back of a mixing spoon until all liquid is released. Re-strain if almond bits remain in the milk.
- Taste. If desired, stir in pinch of salt, one optional sweetener, and optional vanilla extract or vanilla bean seeds; use an immersion blender to mix in an optional powdered flavoring. Store in the fridge in glass bottles or Mason jars. Optional: Dump meal from strainer onto a sheet pan; spread out and dry slowly in low oven. Keep in this form or whir into almond flour for baked goods, thickening, or pet food. Store in fridge.