When a recipe calls for toasted nuts—and they often do—it may seem like an unnecessary extra step. If you’re crunched (heh) for time, it can be tempting to skip it. Don’t! Toasting isn’t just a way to add color. It also gives the nuts added crunch and brings out tons of nutty flavor that is vital to making a good recipe great. (Seriously—in a crunchy salad like this Apple Maple Pecan Salad, limp pecans would really let down the dish.)
But toasting nuts can be tricky. Just a little too much heat, and you’ve taken your nicely browned and fragrant nuts over the edge to a burnt mess. Here are four foolproof ways to get pecans, walnuts and pine nuts perfectly toasty.
How to Toast Nuts
1. In a microwave
Granted, this isn’t toasting, it’s nuking, but it has the same effect. In some cases, the microwave might not give you the rich toasted color as other methods, but if your nuts are going into a cake batter, that color is less important. If you want to encourage browning, you can add ½ tsp. of butter to each ½ cup of nuts.
Place the nuts in a single layer in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, then stir. Continue to cook 1 minute at a time; after each minute, stir the nuts and check for doneness. Depending on the type of nuts you’re using, the process can take as little as 3 minutes or up to 8 minutes.
Unless you buy your nuts already chopped, it’s better to toast them whole, then chop them once they’ve cooled—the smaller the nuts, the more likely they are to burn. This method works best for smaller amounts of nuts—up to ½ cup. (It would be just right for the 1/4 cup of walnuts that add a surprising, nutty crunch to this Bistro Chicken Fettuccine.)
2. In an oven
Of course, the more traditional ways do work well, too. To use the oven, spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil, and place them in an oven preheated to 350°. It’ll take 5-10 minutes for your nuts to toast; keep an eye on them and stir as needed. Once they’re toasted, remove them from the baking sheet to a bowl to cool. Be sure to use a rimmed baking sheet, in order to prevent spillage. You do not want loose nuts rolling around the bottom of your oven.
This method is the best choice when you’re toasting more than a cup or two of nuts, as it’s easier to spread them out on a large baking sheet. It’d be perfect for these Salted Pecan Shortbread Squares, which call for a whopping 4 cups of toasted pecans!
3. In a skillet
Toasting nuts on the stovetop is quick and works well when you only need a small amount of nuts. Put the nuts in a dry skillet (you’re toasting to draw the oils out, after all), and cook over medium heat, tossing frequently. This method is quick (it takes 5 minutes, tops), and it’s easy to keep an eye on the progress. When the nuts are done, remove them from the heat immediately and transfer them to a bowl to cool. This is especially important if you’re using cast iron; because cast iron holds onto its heat so effectively, your nuts will continue to cook as long as they’re in the pan. It’s a good way to keep an eye on the handful of pine nuts used to top this Asiago Beef Tart.
4. In an air fryer
Yes, with wonderful new gadgets come new ways to toast nuts! If you’ve got an air fryer, place the nuts in the bottom of the basket in a single layer, set the temperature to 300° and the timer to 4-6 minutes. Easy as pie! (Like this Caramel-Pecan Pie, which you might be using your toasted nuts to make.)