The hazel is a small round nut with a hard brown shell, partly covered by a lobed husk. It grows in clusters on a tree and belongs to the same genus, Corylus, as the filbert and cob. The differences between these three are, generally speaking, in the size and shape of the nut.

Hazels grow all over Britain, but are grown commercially mainly in Kent. Other countries where hazelnuts are commercially grown are the United States, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Armenia.

Rich in oil, and with a distinctive taste, hazelnuts are used for flavouring and decorating desserts, cakes, biscuits and confectionery.

For culinary purposes, hazelnuts can be bought already shelled. Hazelnut skins are removed, not by blanching as with almonds, but by grilling or baking in the oven. Preheat the oven to fairly hot 375°F (Gas Mark 5, 190°F). Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake them for 5 to 6 minutes. Alternatively, heat the grill to high and grill the nuts for 3 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice. Remove the nuts from the heat and rub them between your hands to remove the skins.

Hazelnut Cream

Quick and easy to make, Hazelnut Cream delicious dinner party dessert crushed hazelnuts and cream with a subtle flavouring of coffee. If you like, the cream may be decorated with a few hazelnuts just before serving.4 oz. hazelnuts, shelled and peeled J oz. gelatine

2 tablespoons cold water

10 fl. oz. milk

4 egg yolks

4 oz. sugar

2 tablespoons coffee essence

10 fl. oz. double cream

Using a blender or pestle and mortar, pound or blend the hazelnuts until they are coarsely crushed. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, dissolve the gelatine in the water over low heat. Set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the nuts and milk to simmering point, stirring constantly, over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a wire whisk or rotary beater until the mixture is pale and thick.

Pour the hot milk and nut mixture on to the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Return the mixture to the pan and replace the pan over low heat.

Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Do not boil or the custard will curdle.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the gelatine and the coffee essence.

Pour the mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl and set it aside to cool.

In another mixing bowl, beat the cream with a wire whisk or rotary beater until it is thick but not stiff.

When the hazelnut mixture is quite cold but not yet set, lightly but thoroughly fold in the cream with a metal spoon.

Pour the mixture into a 2-pint souffle dish or bowl, or into individual dishes.

Cover the dish and place it in the refrigerator. Leave for at least 4 hours, or until the cream is completely set.