A stalwart nut in Christmas cake, pudding and mincemeat, almonds figure prominently on the seasonal shopping list.
For freshness, they're a safer bet than walnuts and hazelnuts: less prone to rancidity, so more tolerant of languishing forgotten at the back of a cupboard. When lightly baked, their creamy neutrality gives way to a much nuttier, crunchier character, making them seriously addictive. It's just so tempting to pick them out from the muesli, or the pilaf, and with an aperitif, you can easily nibble your way through a small bowlful without noticing. Ground finely, almonds give you that gloriously squidgy consistency in cakes, frangipani-filled tarts and marzipan. Toasted flaked almonds look gorgeous on top of a creamy trifle
High-protein almonds are ideal for sating the appetite in a healthy way. They are rich in monounsaturated fats; much research now links this type of fat with a reduced risk of heart disease. These nuts are one of the richest sources of vitamin E, which seems to protect against UV light damage and Alzheimer's disease.