I first tasted Nutella when I was a kid, at the house of a Dutch friend whose relatives would bring it to Canada in suitcases from Europe. To my 10-year-old self, this chocolate-hazelnut spread was a miracle food.
It tasted like chocolate icing. Even more improbably, it possessed a magical property that hypnotized adults into letting children eat it for breakfast.
Developed in the Piedmont region of Italy, an area known for its hazelnuts, Nutella was first manufactured commercially in 1964 by the Italian company Ferrero. Though it quickly became the most popular chocolate-hazelnut spread in Europe, Nutella was initially hard to track down here in Canada.
These days, Nutella for the North American market is manufactured in Brantford, Ont., and is a common sight on Canadian supermarket shelves.
It would be even more common if Nutella superfan Sara Rosso had her way. An American blogger living in Rome, Rosso instituted an unofficial World Nutella Day on Feb. 5, 2007, as a celebration of all things chocolatey and hazelnutty. Her Nutella-centric website (www.nutelladay.com), Facebook page and Twitter account have become destinations for Nutella-obsessed foodies looking for recipes and ideas.
The whole setup was as sweet as a Nutella s'mores bar, at least until May 20, when Rosso received a cease-and-desist letter from Ferrero concerning unauthorized use of its intellectual property and trademarks. It looked as if the website was in jeopardy, another victim of a big corporation trying to shut down crowd-sourced, fan-run social media.
This seemed like an especially tone-deaf and self-defeating move by Ferrero, since Rosso clearly adores Nutella and was basically doing unpaid Nutella outreach.
Fortunately, a messy hazelnut-and-chocolate meltdown was averted. Rosso reported in an open letter posted on May 21 that a "positive resolution" had been reached. A release from Ferrero likewise reported "positive direct contact" between the company and Rosso and expressed its gratitude for her devotion to its brand.
So the website's trove of recipes is safe. Over the years, Rosso has brought together hundreds of recipes for Nutella-inflected cookies, brownies, tarts, cakes, candies, ice cream and puddings, along with a very short, very weird section of savoury recipes. (Um... butternut squash ravioli with Nutella sauce? Nutella-marinated steak? Could there be a limit to the miraculous powers of Nutella?)
Nutella's smooth blend of nuts and chocolate does make a great base for desserts. Take Nigella Lawson's Nutella cake (which is also called Torta alla Giandula, proving conclusively that everything sounds better in Italian). This dense, dark cake starts with a whole jar of Nutella, adds more bittersweet chocolate and finishes with the crunch of whole hazelnuts. Delicious.
And if you're still a little mad at Ferrero and want to strike a blow against Big Choco-Hazelnut Spread, you can make your own homemade version of Nutella with a recipe adapted from Bon Appetit. A powerful, pure concentration of hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate and butterfat, this recipe that would make a Piedmontese grandmother happy.
Nigella's Nutella Cake
6 large eggs, separated
125 ml (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 x 375 g jar Nutella (about 13 oz or 1 1/3 cup)
5 ml (1 tbsp) Frangelico, rum, or water
125 ml (1/2 cup) ground hazelnuts
112 g (4 oz) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
100 g (about 3 1/2 oz) whole hazelnuts
125 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
15 ml (1 tbsp) Frangelico, rum, or water
112 g (4 oz) bittersweet chocolate
Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Butter and line with parchment paper a 23 cm (9 inch) round springform pan. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff but not dry. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and Nutella together, and then add the Frangelico (or whatever you're using), egg yolks and ground hazelnuts. Fold in the cooled, melted chocolate, then lighten the mixture with a large dollop of egg white, which you can beat in as roughly as you want, before gently folding the rest of them in a third at a time. Pour into prepared pan and cook for 40 minutes or until the cake's beginning to come away at the sides, then let cool on a rack.
To make icing: Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat until the aroma wafts upwards and the nuts are golden-brown in parts: keep shaking the pan so that they don't burn on one side and stay too pallid on others. Transfer to a plate and let cool. (This is imperative: if they go on the ganache while hot, it'll turn oily.)
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream, liqueur or water and chopped chocolate, and heat gently over low heat. Once the chocolate's melted, take the pan off the heat and cool, whisking occasionally, until the mixture reaches the right consistency to ice the top of the cake. Unmould the cooled cake carefully, leaving it on the base as it will be too difficult to get such a damp cake off in one piece. Ice the top with the chocolate icing, and dot thickly with the whole toasted hazelnuts. If you have used Frangelico, put shot glasses on the table and serve it with the cake.
-- adapted from How To Be a Domestic Goddess
Tester's notes: This is a "damp cake," as Nigella says, so it's not going to be lofty and exquisite. Instead it's perfectly imperfect, a fairly flat little cake that sags a bit in the middle but has incredibly moist texture and deep chocolatey taste.
The ever pragmatic Nigella points out that you don't have to buy a whole bottle of that "delightfully declass© liqueur," Frangelico, just for a few tablespoons in this recipe. I used rum, and it worked out fine. More than fine: it had me indulging in some Nigella-like spoon-licking.
Better Than Nutella Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
500 ml (2 cups) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 oz)
60 ml (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
454 g (1 lb) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
125 ml (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) pieces, room temperature
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
3 ml (3/4 tsp) kosher salt, or 1 ml (1/4 tsp) regular salt
Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet or in an oven-proof skillet. Roast, shaking sheet once for even toasting, until deep brown, about 13-15 minutes. Let cool completely. (If nuts have skins, rub them in a kitchen towel to remove.) Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until a fairly smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1-3 minutes. Place chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water; stir often until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over saucepan; add butter and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste.
Pour the spread into four clean 250-ml (8-oz) jars, dividing equally. Let cool. (Spread will thicken and become soft and peanut butter-like as it cools.) Screw on lids. (Spread can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften. Can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.)
-- adapted from Bon Appetit
Tester's notes: Yum. Compared to a commercial spread, this spread has the texture of artisanal peanut butter, and the flavour is darker and deeper and far less sweet.
You'll really want to find skinned hazelnuts, as getting the skins off by rubbing with a clean tea towel is fiddly work. I also found that I had to grind the hazelnuts and sugar for almost four minutes to get a really emulsified mixture. (One minute might work with a state-of-the-art food processor but my kitchen workhorse took a lot longer.) And you really need to get the hazelnuts creamy-smooth, otherwise the spread will be too grainy.