This spring, baby almonds will be the newest (and cutest) ingredients at trendy restaurants. These fuzzy almonds, which appear on trees as small green buds after the blossoms fall in late March, resemble tiny unripe peaches. Inside the soft shell is a translucent jelly sack that tastes like a lychee with a delicate almond flavor. By May or June, this kernel begins to firm up, producing a soft, creamy nut. In the Middle East, whole green almonds are pickled for meze platters, but in the U.S., chefs have other ideas. Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Jean Georges in Manhattan serves the jellylike kernels as a garnish for foie gras pressed between sheets of almond pastry. At Campton Place in San Francisco, Laurent Manrique uses them to decorate roasted Sonoma duck breast. Look for green almonds in early spring at farmers' markets in California (America's only almond-producing state) or Middle Eastern food shops.
The Nut Pantry
Almond milk is made from ground blanched almonds that have been steeped in hot water overnight then pressed to extract a milky liquid. It can be used in place of regular milk or cream to make soups and desserts, such as blancmange, a delicate French pudding.
Praline Americans hear the word praline and think pecan candy, but in French confectionery, praline means almonds or hazelnuts that have been caramelized with sugar and coarsely ground, or turned into a sweetened nut butter to make a smooth flavoring for candies and pastries ($21 for 8 ounces from Michel Cluizel; 800-521-1176).
Almond paste is produced from whole blanched almonds that have been ground and cooked gently with no more than 50 percent of their weight in sugar or sugar syrup. (When a higher proportion of sugar is used, it's called marzipan.) Almond paste is the secret ingredient in many desserts, from bear claws and Italian macaroons to frangipane filling in fruit tarts ($5 for 16 ounces from Pastry Craft; 800-825-6663).
Almond butter is simply made from roasted almonds that have been finely ground. It can replace any nut butter.
Almonds & Health
There are plenty of good reasons to eat more almonds: Not only are they high in vitamin E, protein and fiber and lower in calories than you might think (a handful has only 170 calories), but they can also help protect the heart. "Eliminate something bad in your diet and replace it with almonds," advises Cyril Kendall, a researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. A study there found that people who ate an ounce of almonds a day in place of some carbo- hydrates and saturated fat lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by about 4 percent.
Éminence Organic Skin Care Almond & Mineral Treatment includes crushed almonds for exfoliating and ground ivy for tightening pores, in a mask gentle enough for the driest skin ($40 for 2 ounces; 888-747-6342).
Kai Body Lotion with hydrating almond oil is a lightweight skin softener with a lovely floral fragrance ($30 for 8 ounces; 877-989-4104).
Lather Almond Butter Body Polish contains almond meal to slough away dry skin and an extract of sweet almonds rich in glycoproteins, which soften and repair even sensitive skin ($22 for 4 ounces; 877-652-8437).
Burt's Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Creme has sweet almond oil for soothing and smoothing irritated skin and beeswax for sealing in moisture and protecting hands from dryness ($7 for 2 ounces; 800-849-7112).
Nuxe Reve de Miel Lip Balm blends honey and almond oil in a creamy salve that keeps lips moist but isn't greasy or sticky ($17 for 0.5 ounces; 800-823-2889).