Mr. Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero Company, created Nutella in the 1940’s. At the time, in the region of Piedmonte, hazelnuts were plentiful but due to World War II rationing, chocolate was in short supple. So Mr. Ferrero added a paste of ground hazelnuts, to extend the chocolate supply and Nutella was born.
The original version of Nutella spread was called “pasta gianduja” and was thought to have been invented during Napolean’s reign in the late 1700’s. It takes its name from Gianduja, a Carnival and marionette character that represented the typical native of the Piedmont region, where hazelnut confectionery is common.
I believe Nutella is a healthy sophisticated sweet. Hazelnuts have great health benefits including being heart healthy. We all know that chocolate is full of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants to reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Dark chocolate also contains serotonin, which makes you happy! Fortunately, as participants of our North End Market tour have discovered, the American version of Nutella is not exactly nutritious. A glance at the label will reveal that the first ingredient is sugar followed by palm oil, cocoa solids, and skim milk.
As I stood at my kitchen counter, spoon in hand, scooping up the last bits of a jar of Italian Amadei Crema Toscana al Cacao, I looked at the label and thought, why not make this at home, from scratch. Yes, pass up that stuff in the supermarket and treat yourself and your friends to the ultimate longevity food. Remember moderation – it’s not calorie free.
I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood filled with wonderful genuine Italian ingredients. I dashed down the street to Polcari’s Coffee Shop and was fortunate to find imported from Italy, peeled roasted hazelnuts – that saved a lot of prep-time! When I ground the hazelnuts in the food-processor I noticed a beautiful natural oil oozing from the paste and decided that I didn’t need another added fat. And since I prefer a more intense chocolate and nut flavor, I thought I would add less sugar. You could even substitute agave nectar for the sugar, if you are interested in lowering the glycemic index. And since I always have some dark chocolate around (Belgium dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s) I opted for that instead of milk chocolate. It was so easy to make, I can’t imagine why anyone would buy store bought Nutella.
I know that this will be just the beginning of another craze – why not home-made hazelnut, almond or peanut butter – with or without chocolate.
The options are endless…
it is February, heart healthy month!
1 C. hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
4 oz. dark chocolate
2 T. confectioners’ sugar
3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
- If your hazelnuts have not been skinned, they will have to have their outer peel/skin removed. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until they begin to darken and become very fragrant, about 10 minutes. Wrap them in a damp kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove the skins. Inevitably some bits of skin will remain – it’s OK –but too much skin will make them bitter.
- Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over gently simmering water or in the microwave on low heat. Cool completely.
- In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they form a smooth paste, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly.
- Add the melted chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt to the food processor and continue to process until the mixture is smooth.
- Remove to a container, and let it cool to room temperature. Cover.
The texture of the paste may change as it sits. If the chocolate hazelnut paste becomes a bit too firm, place it in the microwave for about 10 sec. to soften. I tried a batch with 1 T. of coconut oil (a healthy oil) and I also substituted honey for the confex but I found the resulting paste too thin and runny. I chose not to use a vegetable oil since most of our vegetable oils are refined and made with GMO products. And I really didn’t think that it needed the extra fat.
Some people may want to adapt the recipe by using milk chocolate and perhaps more sugar but that’s simply a taste preference. And since we do not have the commercial style grinding equipment, it’s unlikely that your paste will be silky smooth. I didn’t mind the slight grainy texture, but if you do you, strain it through a fine sieve.