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Often when you find a baking recipe that calls for nuts, it is specific about the type of nut in the recipe... But what do you do when a recipe just says "nuts of your choice?" How do you know which is the best nut to use? If you are the kind of person who might only have one kind of nut on hand, that becomes an easy choice, you use what you have. But if you, like me, keep a serious stash of these crunchy treats in the freezer waiting for a baking project, it can start to feel a little like too many options.
Here are, in my opinion, the best nuts to use for every baking application, and why they edge out the others. That is not to say that there is any nut that is a bad choice in almost any bake, but sometimes one nut just edges out the rest and rises to the top.
Best nut for drop-style cookies
Best nuts to use: Lightly salted roasted peanuts
Here's why: Drop style cookies, like your traditional chocolate chip, often benefit from an added nut. Peanuts are ideal here: They keep their crunchy texture, the size matches other likely add-ins like chips, and while they bring great nutty flavor, they do not overwhelm. The added salt helps to bring little pops of punchy excitement as you eat. Try them in your next batch of oatmeal cookies with dried cherries or raisins for a sort of PB&J flavor that you'll love.
Best nut for sliced cookies
Best nuts to use: Toasted pine nuts
Here's why: Sliceable cookies need a special kind of nut, one that can be cut through easily and cleanly without getting caught up on the knife which creates uneven cookies. Since most sliceable cookies are heavy on the butter, like shortbread or sable style dough, having something that gives both texture and a balance of flavor is ideal. Pine nuts are soft and small, so easy to slice, but also, have a wonderful subtle resiny bitterness that is enhanced by toasting, which is a terrific counterbalance for rich buttery cookie dough. Try them in a dark chocolate sablé style cookie like Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies.
Best nut for muffins
Best nuts to use: Pistachios
Here's why: Muffins are one of those breakfast/brunch/snack pastries that always seem to cry out for the inclusion of a nut for both flavor and texture. I always lean into pistachios here for their mild, sweet flavor that pairs well with pretty much any classic muffin flavor from hearty bran to decadent chocolate, and they are pals with every fruit imaginable. They have good crunchy texture, even after baking, and the small size means you don't have to chop them before adding to your batter. The little pops of bright green color are always also a welcome visual. Try them in a carrot cake style muffin and I bet you'll never go back to walnuts.
Best nut for sweet bread loaves or cakes
Best nuts to use: Almonds
Here's why: From banana breads to pound cakes to coffee cakes, sweet breads and cakes often include nuts. They tend to be either butter or oil based, and are dense and sweet, so they love a nut to bring texture and balance. Almonds are my go-to for these, especially since you can use them in so many different forms: coarsely chopped or slivered for real crunch, or those thin slices for a gentler texture. Plus, almonds have a mild flavor that will never fight with the other flavors in pretty much any bake. Try toasted slivered almonds in your next batch of zucchini bread.
Best nut for savory breads
Best nuts to use: Walnuts
Here's why: Whether you're making a hearty sourdough; a tangy soda or beer bread; or an intensely flavored loaf-style bread enhanced with ingredients like cheese, olives, herbs, or garlic, savory breads cry out for a nut that has some meaty heft. And that's a perfect match for walnuts. Their natural bitterness is a great pairing with meats and cheeses, which means breads baked with walnuts are ideal for a charcuterie spread or in sandwiches. If you can source black walnuts, so much the better. Try a cheddar, onion, walnut bread with whole cumin seed to really elevate your bread game!
Best nut for breakfast pastries
Best nuts to use: Hazelnuts
Here's why: From sticky buns to cinnamon rolls, adding nuts to those special breakfast and brunch treats is always a smart move. A lot of folks lean into pecans for these, but I always prefer hazelnuts. Pecans are themselves a buttery nut with a sweet finish, so adding them to things that are already buttery and sweet makes them get a bit lost for me. I love the more serious crunch and complex flavor of toasted hazelnuts in these bakes. Try blending chopped toasted hazelnuts into cinnamon butter and fill puff pastry pockets with them for a morning bun that will change everything.
Best nut for pies and tarts
Best nuts to use: Pecans
Here's why: Whether the nut is the star, or a supporting player, pies and tarts are improved with pecans. You can add ground pecans to the crust to add buttery nutty flavor for fruit pies, put a layer of chopped toasted pecans underneath any creamy filling to add texture and contrast, or fill the shell to the rim with nuts and a sugary goo for classic pecan pie. Try adding chopped toasted pecans to your next graham cracker crust for a Key lime pie with a little extra oomph.