Sunday, May 01, 2011


Last week, in the midst of my annual fridge purge (discoveries: black and blue cheese, sentient yoghurt), I came across these: vaccum-packed apricot, nectarine and peach kernels. These were destined for use in a dessert project I never quite got round to starting. At the time, I was reading a thread on eGullet about noyaux, the French name for stone fruit kernels and their use as flavouring agents in desserts and liqueurs. Noyaux (pronounced "nwa-yoh,") are a commonly used alternative for bitter almonds. For those of you not familiar with it, the smell is that of almond extract, as used in marzipan, amaretti biscuits and Amaretto brandy. Oh, and cherry coke.

Stone fruit kernels have one immediate advantage: they're more readily available (especially here in the orchard districts) than the costly, rare-as-hen's-teeth bitter almond, at least here in New Zealand. The two have a particular chemical in common, benzaldehyde, which gives both their unique almond extract flavour (which incidentally, tastes nothing like ordinary almonds, with their delicate, nutty flavour).

The plan at the time was to make a noyaux-flavoured ice cream (this was last summer). I encouaged everyone I knew to save their stonefruit pits and stones. It was taking an age to build up a decent stockpile, when suddenly, three days of ferocious winds broke the tops of several of my mum's fruit trees: victory at last! I cut off the broken-fruit laden limbs; the fruit was bruised and battered, and mould was making a rapid move across the surface of the badly damaged crop. I gathered it all up and commenced salvaging the stones. Five hours of hammer cracking later, I'd accumulated a little over a kilo's worth of kernels...and an intense dislike of sandflies...and attention-seeking cats.

I wasn't going to be able to use them straight away, so I vaccum-packed them for use later on in the week. And promptly forgot about them...

Until now. I was going to make an ice cream but that's all I ever seem to make, so I thought a panna cotta would make for a change.

Noyaux Panna Cotta with a Caramelised Orange Compote

Make everything the day before you need to serve it. The panna cotta will set overnight, while the compote will be more flavoursome if allowed time to stand. Makes about 8 or 9 portions.

Panna cotta:
  • 1 cup of stonefruit kernels, roughly ground
  • 2 cups of cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 0.5 cup sugar
  • 2.5 gelatine sheets
Soak the gelatine sheets in a little water. Place all remaining ingredients into a pot and gradually bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, strain through a sieve and/or muslin to remove the kernels. Add gelatine sheets and stir until dissolved. Pour into dariole moulds or ramekins, and place in the fridge to set.

  • 3 oranges
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
Using a zester, remove the zest from two of the oranges in nice long strips; set aside. Place the water and brown sugar in a pot, bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar; add the quill and the cloves. Drop the zest in the boiling sugar syrup and leave until the mixture reduces to a syrupy, yet runny, consistency. While that's cooking, grab a good, sharp knife and slice the bottom off your oranges so that they'll sit upright. Slice off the peel and pith. Now cut the orange into segments, ensuring all the pith is gone. Pop the segments into the sugar syrup and bring back to the boil.

If the addition of the oranges results in a watery-looking syrup, cook it out until it reduces back to a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before placing it in the fridge to infuse overnight.

To serve, remove the orange container from the fridge and bring it back to room temperature (cold dampens flavour). Remove your zest and oranges, and sprinkle with brown sugar; grill until they caramelise. Place the fruit in a little mound next to the panna cotta you've successfully liberated from its mould. I drizzled a little of the orange syrup around the plate and garnished it with a few poppy seeds and some mint. To give it a little texture and balance, I added a homemade, baked apple crisp (slice apple, sprinkle with sugar, bake at low heat until it dries out). A wafer of some description would work equally well.

Want to try making other things with your stonefruit kernels? Try these -


Zo @ Two Spoons said...

Oh cooool! We always have a huge supply of these and my Dad always gets out the kernels but he just eats them raw (eeek!). Nice to know that they're actually edible as a real treat for desserts.

Nigel Olsen said...

Hi, Zo! He eats them raw, eh? He's a hard man! They contain trace amounts of cyanide, not enough to kill you fortunately, unless you're consuming bag loads of the stuff.

Sasa said...

I see you say bag loads...I was under the impression more than a few were kinda bad for you, I must be mistaken.

Nigel Olsen said...

Don't rely on the likes of me for advice on health & safety...

Alessandra said...

I use the apricot kernels often, but never the nectarine/other stone fruit. But I have to tell you that it is probably important to say that the kernels should be blanched: the peel is poisonous, Strychnine, like for bitter almonds, in small doses it wont harm you, but it was a very well known home made poison in the past centuries. I don't know if the same apply to other stone fruit, but if in doubt blanch!

I got a post here


The dessert looks great, panna with 2 n :-)

Unknown said...

Not sure if I've ever come across bitter almond. But the pannacott surely looks good!

hungryandfrozen said...

Funny you say that about ice cream, it seems to be how I instinctively interpret flavours too - good on you for going for a panna cotta instead! I remember breaking open an apricot stone once and eating what was inside - gross! Must've done it wrong though - this almondy flavour you speak of sounds wonderful.

emm said...

I just read a book called Health Wars, that claims apricot kernels are the cure for cancer! Apparently some tribe from somewhere or rather, eats them regularly and they all live to over 120 years old! You might just be onto something here Nigel :-)

Nigel Olsen said...

Alesandra - Good point. I've read a few articles & a post or three about the dangers of using kernels. The advice given is varied; some say they're fine as they are, others say roast or as you've just said, blanch. If folk are wary about using kernels, err on the side of caution & don't touch them.

Cheers for the heads up re. spelling mistake - duly changed ;)

Arfi - Cheers, young lady :)

Laura - It's really quite lovely. The kitchen smelt wondeful as it cooked in the cream.

Emm - There's a ton of literature out there about its use in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I made an 'almond' liquer last year by macerating loquat stones in 92% alcohol for a month then diluting and sweetening. Intense almond nose and and initial flavour but a disagreeable bitter back taste. I suspect this may have been cyanide so I ended up redistilling it.

Nigel Olsen said...

I wonder if the off flavour was due instead to it being macerated a little too long? Some herbs for instance only need to be steeped for a few days, while dense material requires several months for maximum extraction - just a thought...

Nigel Olsen said...

Found this on an eGullet thread about sourcing bitter almonds: "In "The Mother of All Ice Cream" chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten writes: Bitter almonds cannot be imported into the US because they contain the chemical amygdalin, which, when moistened, breaks down into benzaldehyde (the chief flavor in marzipan and almond extract) and prussic acid, which releases a toxin similar to cyanide. ... Imitation or artificial almond extracts are sorry substitutes, containing synthetic benzaldehyde alone, with none of the numerous other aroma coumpounds found in true bitter almond oil.

Steingarten suggests using kernels as an alternative. To minimise any risk, boil in water for 1 minute, draining and then toasting in a preheated 300ºF oven for 10 or 15 minutes until light brown ("this procedure will eliminate the prussic acid while leaving much of the bitter almond taste")".

Having said that, I've come across several sites that say this severely degrades the almond flavour and the risk of poisoning is overstated. It's hard to make an informed choice with such a variety of opinion. Tread cautiously.

Anonymous said...

This post has sparked my curiosity about stonefruit kernels... always loved that almond-y flavour/aroma (growing up, mum had this cherry cleaning product that smelled like almond extract and it took me ages to figure out why it didn't smell like cherries)...

Interesting to read about all the chemical/poison/flavour stuff too :)

Phil said...

Thanks for the comments Nigel. Yes I took the cautious path and redistilled. I will try again next year by boiling and roasting the kernels as suggested. I have tried macerating almonds for a month or so, results were a mild almond flavour without bitterness. At the moment I have some bashed up almonds in alcohol to see what delights that brings.

Alessandra said...

Listen to me, blanch them and discard the peel, the easiest way and no need for toasting. After all you only eat them once in a while, and look at me, after all those years of apricot kernels I am still alive and blogging!

come and visit sometime, I posted a banana flower recipe

Kiwis rarely leave comments (they read, or this is what the statistics say, and yet do not write comments, what is a blog without comments????)
I am tired to get all my comments from overseas when most of my visitors are from New Zealand!
Bunch of shy people you are! hehehehe!


Nigel Olsen said...

Alessandram - No worries, young lady, I'll pop along :)

Phil - Hey, keep me posted when you try that again. This summer I want to try the walnut liqueur, using unripened walnuts.

MM - It really is a unique, un-almondy flavour, hence my love of cherry coke (& cherry Dr Pepper, as well as cherry 7-up!).