by Mari Levine
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Nutella and I have been through a lot together. It made me late to classes in college, when I used to sneak into the student-run coffeeshop I helped manage to make a quick snack of the creamy spread and a thick piece of pita. It almost got me kicked out of a music festival in France, when security guards found and confiscated a glass jar of the stuff that I was attempting to smuggle into the venue.
So I felt like a bit of traitor when on a trip to a Nutella-less Whole Foods, I picked up a jar of another hazelnut-chocolate spread called Choco Dream. Sure, its texture was a bit plasticky and dry, but it was chock full of nutty hazelnut flavor. It highlighted my beloved Nutella's one shortcoming: lack of any real nuttiness. Tasted side by side with Choco Dream, Nutella tasted like milk chocolate. This made me question something I'd never considered: Could one of my favorite foods be made even better?
The answer, which I realized soon after setting out to develop my own recipe, was yes. Toasted, peeled hazelnuts and some cocoa powder supplied a nice balance of nut and chocolate flavor, while a food processor and some oil was all I needed to bring the two together. Mix in some confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and salt for sweetness and depth, and you have a rustic, homemade version of Nutella.
In addition to the boost of nuttiness, my chocolate-hazelnut spread has another advantage: coarse texture. Don't get me wrong-I love Nutella's silky smoothness. But I also love hazelnuts' shatteringly coarse texture. And as a crunchy peanut (or any other nut) butter-lover, I embraced this in my new spread.
If you think Nutella is addictive, just wait until you try this stuff. I think you'll join me in saying thanks for the memories, Nutella.
Step #1: TOAST IT
Toasting the hazelnuts deepens their flavor. But keep a close eye on them-they can go from a pleasant caramel color to burned black in just a few minutes. And what's a chocolate-hazelnut spread without hazelnuts?
Step #2: SHAKE IT
I've tried rolling them in a dish towel. I've done the "seal them in a zipper-lock bag and agitate it until you're red in the face" technique. But in my opinion, nothing removes the skins from the hazelnuts like making a maraca with them-that is, shaking them vigorously between two mixing bowls until their peels just can't hold on any longer. I usually shake the bowls for a few seconds, transfer only the fully skinless hazelnuts to the food processor, then resume the bowl process and shake some more. Picking out only the fully peeled hazelnuts in stages can seem a bit tedious, but it's worth it: The skins can give your spread a bitter edge.
Step #3: LIQUIFY IT
Processing the hazelnuts is my favorite part because you get to just sit back and watch your food processor work its magic. You'll go through a range of emotions: After the first minute or two, you'll feel doubtful that the nuts will ever get smooth. Then the heat of the processor's blade starts to draw out the nuts' oil, and you'll feel hopeful (and guilty for ever doubting the recipe). And finally, you'll see the smooth, loose paste you've been waiting for, and you'll feel relieved (and excited!).
Step #4: PROCESS IT
Once you've added the cocoa powder (it doesn't matter if it's Dutch-processed or not), vanilla, salt, and oil, and processed the whole lot, it will start to look like a glossy, smooth, chocolate cookie dough. But keep blending and the hazelnut oil works wonders at loosening the entire mixture and bringing it back to spreadable territory. (But feel free to use more than a tablespoon if you still deem the spread too stiff.)
Step #5: EAT IT
Isn't it pretty? Slather the spread on a piece of bread, dip pretzels in it, or just grab a big old spoonful. The possibilities are endless-and a little bit goes a long way.
RECIPE: Homemade Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread
Makes 1½ cups
Walnut or vegetable oil can be substituted for the hazelnut oil. The final spread will have the consistency of almond butter. The texture will stiffen and become more spreadable if kept in the refrigerator.
2 cups (8 ounces) hazelnuts
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioner's sugar
⅓ cup (1 ounce) cocoa powder
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Place hazelnuts in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and roast until fragrant and dark brown, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating tray halfway through cooking. Transfer hazelnuts to medium bowl and set aside. When hazelnuts are cool enough to handle, overturn a second medium bowl and place on top of first bowl. Shake vigorously to remove skins.
2. Transfer peeled hazelnuts to food processor and process to consistency of smooth, loose paste, about 5 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.
3. Add sugar, cocoa powder, oil, vanilla, and salt, and process until fully incorporated and mixture begins to loosen slightly and become glossy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.
4. Transfer spread to jar with tight-fitting lid. Spread can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated for up to 1 month.
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