A filbert is a round medium-sized tree nut that comes in a smooth hard wooden shell. Some people believe the name filbert comes from Saint Philbert, whose feast day, August 20, corresponds to their harvest time, while others suggest it comes from an Old German name for "full beard" after the hairlike husk that surrounds them on the tree. Filberts are often confused with hazelnuts and cobnuts, but while there are some minor differences, all three come from the same genus and so they are essentially the same. Whatever you prefer to call it, this is a great—one might even say noble—nut that has many significant culinary uses.
- Also Known As: Hazelnuts, cobnuts
- Shelf Life: One year or more, if packaged and stored properly
- Name: After Old German for "full beard" or France's Saint Philbert
Filberts vs. Walnuts
Filberts and walnuts are both nuts with important culinary roles. Both have a high oil content, and both are used to make excellent artisanal oils that can be drizzled over edibles to add a sweet, nutty, intense flavor. Both lend themselves to desserts and confectionary, as well as savory preparations, and both take well to toasting and salting as well as candying. However, their sizes and shapes are notably different: Walnuts are much larger with a sort of corrugated skeletal appearance when peeled, whereas filberts are round and solid. And their flavors are quite different too: Walnuts feel a bit softer, sweeter, and oilier, whereas filberts are hard and crunchy, with a hint of smokiness.
While both filberts and cobnuts are in the hazel genus Corylus, they are a different species, and there are subtle differences between them. Filberts (Corylus maxima) tend to be slightly larger than cobnuts (Corylus avellana). Cobnuts are typically harvested early when the skin is still soft, to be peeled and eaten fresh. The Tonda Gentile Trilobata hazelnut, another variety of Corylus avellana, from Piedmont, Italy, is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the very best. It's widely used in the area to produce a traditional cake called Torta di Nocciola, a famous chocolate confection of Turin known as Gianduja, and grape must preserve called cugnà to accompany bollito misto (a northern Italian stew) or cheese.
Filberts can be used in many different ways, such as the base of alcoholic liqueurs, in cakes, cookies, and chocolate production, and in soups, salads, and other savory dishes. Filberts can also be used to make a high-quality finishing oil, or as a flavoring for coffee and other beverages. They make superb ice cream too. They are also excellent simply toasted and served before a meal with hors d'oeuvres or after with cheese.
How to Cook With Filberts
Crack toasted filberts and sprinkle over sweet potato soup, or crush finely and use as a crust for sautéed chicken breast or baked halibut. If you are starting with whole filberts in the shell, the shell will need to be cracked and the nuts removed. You will then have to take off the brown inner skin. This can be done in one of two ways: Place the shelled filberts on a baking sheet and heat in a preheated 300 F oven for about 15 minutes, then rub them with a damp towel. Alternatively, the husks can be removed by blanching: Add baking soda to boiling water, add the filberts, boil for about 3 to 4 minutes, then test one by running it under cold water and gently rubbing it. If the skin doesn't slip off easily, boil them a bit longer.
What Do They Taste Like?
Filberts have an intense nutty flavor and firm crunch that is accentuated by roasting and can pair nicely with rich chocolate as well as full-flavored meats.
Roasted almonds, peanuts, or walnuts may be substituted for filberts, depending on what you are using them for; however, the flavor profile will be slightly different.
Filberts are a great nut to cook with. Their pronounced nutty flavor is accentuated by both salt and sugar, and their dense oily texture stands up to fat, whether savory or sweet.
- Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Viennese Hazelnut Shortbread Crescents (Vanillekipferln)
- Hazelnut-Chocolate Bites
Where to Buy Filberts
Filberts can be purchased most anywhere nuts are sold, including grocery stores in the nut and grain section, as well as in health food shops and gourmet food shops, especially those specializing in baking supplies. Because they have a long shelf, filberts can be bought in bulk, then stored in small airtight packages in a cool, dry place. However, make sure the nuts you are purchasing have been recently toasted or harvested, especially if you are buying shelled filberts.
Shelled, toasted filberts can be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for six to 12 months but should be tasted periodically to make sure they have not gone rancid. Filberts in the shell can also be stored in the same way for up to a year. Both shelled and unshelled filberts can be placed in airtight bags and stored in the freezer for a year or more.