Toasting nuts before incorporating them into a baked good will bring out their flavor, freshen them if they've gone stale, and improve their crunch.
I'm sure there are situations where it's not optimal to toast nuts before baking with them, but I can't think of one, except maybe biscotti, where you'd risk burning them because of the double-baking process.
I'm told this can be done in an oven, spread out on cookie pans, but this makes me nervous as they can burn so quickly and then you'd be so sad.
The more foolproof stovetop method:
- Fill your widest frying pan with a single layer of nuts. I usually crowd them a little, let's call it 1.5 layers, which works ok, but don't push it much farther than this, or you risk some of them not getting exposed to enough direct heat.
- Do not include oil!! No oil is necessary. Use a dry pan.
- Put this over a low flame, or the lowest setting available.
- This whole process should take less than five minutes, so don't walk away. Don't! Just stand there with a book or something.
- You don't have to stir them continuously, but every 30 seconds or so, either shake the pan around, or stir the nuts. The important thing is to keep any of them from sitting on the hottest parts of the pan for too long.
- They're done when their color has deepened, they're making a little sizzling sound, and they've made your kitchen smell amazing. Note: you're looking for *most* of them to get *somewhat* toasted. They don't need to be perfectly evenly browned - this is, in fact, impossible.
- When you see one burned spot on one nut, you're DONE. Trust me and get them onto a cool plate, stat.
Fresh-toasted is best, but you can also do this ahead of time and freeze the toasted nuts. Previously toasted is far better than not toasted at all.
If your recipe calls for chopped or ground nuts, process them after toasting - this reduces the amount of dust in your pan, which is the first thing to burn. That said, I do often toast pre-sliced almonds, which works fine, just requires vigilant attention.