A Spoonful of Chocolate (and Hazelnuts)
By Cheryl Forberg
When I attended a sixteen-month culinary school, 25% of my training was in pastry. I had always enjoyed baking, but growing up in the Midwest, I was exposed to basic mainstream ingredients. I had a lot to learn about classic French techniques and worldly ingredients. I had never before tasted hazelnuts, and I certainly didn’t know of Gianduja (pronounced john-DOO-yah).
An Italian confection, gianduja is a combination of chocolate and ground hazelnuts. It can be used in gelato, truffles, cakes, sauces and as a spread. It was created by confectioners in the Piedmonte region of Italy. Some say it originated during wartime. Because there was a shortage of cocoa beans, crafty bakers substituted their abundance of local hazelnuts to stretch their dwindling chocolate supply. Others say it was a brilliant invention created by an imaginative baker. Either way, Gianduja lovers have been hooked on its flavor for over a hundred years.
The most popular commercial version of this creamy chocolate hazelnut recipe was introduced in 1963 in Alba, Italy, a town surrounded by hazelnut orchards. Over time, the recipe for “Nutella™” has evolved by increasing less expensive “filler” ingredients such as palm oil and sugar.
A German Nutella lover created this image of Nutella's current iteration, showing the ingredients' proportions. It’s almost 50% sugar and 35% fat, though you can still taste chocolate and hazelnuts.
Photo credit: Deconstructed Nutella: nuts, cocoa – and 58% sugar
10 oz hazelnuts - 49%
2.4 oz cocoa powder - 12%
2.4 oz powdered sugar - 12%
3 oz unsalted butter - 15%
2.1 oz water - 10%
I decided to create a homemade version of Nutella™ with a much higher ratio of hazelnuts and chocolate and a much lower ratio of fat and sugar. The commercial spread is often used in crepes, on toast, over ice cream and straight from a spoon. My recipe is a bit thicker and could be scooped and dipped as truffles. It can also be thinned and used as a sauce. But I, too, favor it, straight from the spoon.
Yield: about 2/3 cup
1 cup blanched peeled hazelnuts; lightly roasted
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (see note below)
1 - 3 tablespoons hot water
In a small sauté pan, lightly toast hazelnuts over medium-high heat.
Transfer nuts to the small bowl of a food processor.
In the same sauté pan, melt the butter over low heat. Set aside.
Add cocoa powder, sugar and salt to bowl of the food processor. Pulse and or process until ingredients are fine and well combined.
Add vanilla and melted butter to the bowl of the processor. Process or purée until smooth. Heat ¼ cup of water in the same sauté pan. Add a tablespoon of hot water to the chocolate mixture and process till smooth. Add additional water, a tablespoon at a time, for a thinner consistency. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.
Note: For a vegan version, stir in mild-flavored olive oil (not extra virgin) instead of butter.