I looked over my 2008 New Year's Resolutions a few days ago. Embarrassing! Still, I have accomplished a few things, among them improving my culinary skills. I can't say I have made great progress in French cuisine, but I definitely learned a thing or two about cracking hazelnuts on Thanksgiving Day. Elly needed hazelnuts for several dishes she wanted to cook. I came home with a bag of unshelled nuts, and she said "Great. Now how are you going to crack them?" "Crack them? Is that my job?"
I started off with the traditional nutcracker, which, frankly was not up to the job. I had a hard time breaking the shell and frequently crushed the nut inside. After a minute of this I thought to myself there has to be a better way and consulted the ultimate authority. Google.
I didn't find that much about how to crack hazelnuts. One source suggested boiling them first, which sounded like a total mess. Another person said, not about hazelnuts in particular, but just nuts in general, that if you didn't have a nut cracker, you could use a pair of pliers or something from the workshop. A light bulb turned on ever my head. Channel lock pliers! They exert considerable force and can be opened to convenient widths -- much wider than regular pliers. After a few experiments, I found that exerting force from top to bottom was the most reliable way to crack the shell without crushing the nut inside. There were a few tough nuts. With these, I found rotating them a bit, putting pressure on from multiple angles, was a good way to open them without exerting too much pressure.
A few broken nuts can be seen in the picture below. These were caused by the traditional nut cracker. Once I started using the channel locks, I had almost no trouble with crushing them. Now, if I could only come up with an easy way to get the skin casing off the roasted nuts. Rubbing them together did't work that well...