Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Heather Vs. Home Made Nutella, Round 1

First round standings: Heather, 0; Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, 1.

I used to live in Turin, Italy, home of Gianduja chocolate hazelnut spread.  We loved walking to the annual chocolate festival held at Piazza Castello, where we'd cruise the artisan booths not for chocolates, but for the amazing chocolate hazelnut spreads.  There were white chocolate spreads, dark chocolate spreads, milk chocolate spreads.  And they came in every flavor imaginable, including hot pepper!

So these days grabbing a jar of Nutella off the grocery store shelf leaves me a little cold.  I came across this nifty recipe from Vitamix for Chocolate Hazelnut Spread and was so excited!  

I was really surprised by the Vitamix recipe, since it required making a thick syrup from sugar and water on the stovetop, then letting the mixture cool until it became brittle.  I was then supposed to break the caramelized sugar into pieces, grind them in the Vitamix, and add the nuts.

But of course I couldn't execute the recipe as written, I had to try to make it just a little healthier, using wholesome turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) instead of white granulated sugar.  As a result, my cooled caramelized sugar never got any harder than a thickened paste.

A series of misadventures followed, in which my poor Vitamix overheated from the effort of grinding both nuts and sticky sugar.  I took frequent breaks, and eventually made a gritty, but delicious paste.  I soldiered on, adding olive oil and vanilla as per the recipe.  And then I made a huge mistake.

In an effort to cool the mixture and to blend the paste into and even smoother cream, I added a little cold water.

The hazelnut cream immediately curdled.  Water and hot oil began to separate.  The water actually started to boil in my blender!  And the hazelnut chocolate paste grew gummy and tough.

Hours of hard work and four cups of hazelnuts went down the garbage disposal.

But I learned some valuable lessons in the process of my kitchen disaster.  Most important, never add water to nut butters while grinding!  Although I've added water with no problem when blending sesame paste (tahini) in the Vitamix, tahini and hazelnut paste are clearly two different beasts.

Since that epic disaster I've been itching to have another go at the chocolate hazelnut spread.  I have some ideas to even the score, like grinding the hazelnuts into butter before adding the sticky sweetener.  I'm also planning to use brown rice syrup as my alternative sweetener instead of making the caramelized sugar paste.

Who knows, my quest for home made, wholesome sweetener "Nutella" may just end in another disaster.  But there will be a Round 2, Chocolate Hazelnut Spread.  Oh yes, the rematch is coming.

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