The Nutella King Has Passed

nutellaMichele Ferraro changed my life, although he never knew it.  Mr Ferraro was the creator of Nutella, and he passed away this weekend, on Valentine’s Day.  Born of post war necessity, Nutella was created when chocolate was scarce, and it made good business sense to combine it with abundant hazelnuts.  The resulting spread became a world wide taste phenomenon, and it was the start of a confectionary empire that made Mr Ferraro one of the richest men in the world.

I first tasted a homemade version of Nutella when I worked as a prep cook in the kitchen of Kibbutz Urim, in Israel.  I was a teenager who had little exposure to sweets, and that chocolate- hazelnut spread was a kibbutz staple.  Made by the bucket full, it was kept in the kitchen and served at every breakfast, ready to  schmear on bread or toast. Its exotic flavors opened culinary worlds to me, and creating it for the hungry hordes introduced me to large scale food preparation.  At the time, I had no idea that making Nutella from scratch would sow the seeds of my future as an avid consumer of all things delicious, and for my career as a chef.

So many years later, a version of that homemade spread appears in our cookbook In a Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds, published in August 2014 by W. W. Norton.  As great and as universal as commercial Nutella is, our easy -to- prepare homemade version has remarkable depth of flavor.  We use it as a spread as I did in the kibbutz days, but also as a base for ice cream, as a topping for waffles, and as a dip for pretzels or fresh fruit.  I believe our recipe would have made Mr Ferraro proud.  Its inspired combination of chocolate and hazelnuts piqued my interest in all things culinary, and for that, I thank him.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

2 cups blanched hazelnuts, toasted

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

  1. In the work bowl of a food processor, process the hazelnuts until a paste forms, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stop the processor, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and continue to process for 3 additional minutes.  The hazelnuts will have the texture of sand, with a little remaining graininess.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa and pulse repeatedly until everything is well mixed, about 1 minute. Drizzle in the oil and add the vanilla and salt.  Process until the spread is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula, place it in a clean airtight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

Recipe reprinted from In A Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. Copyright © 2014 by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

More Than Waffles

Hazelnut Waffle DemoI pulled in to in the supermarket lot, parked, and swung over to the long line of shopping carts.  Flipping down an infant seat, and dropping in my overfilled shabby bag, the ad at the far end of the cart caught my eye.  Nutella topping a waffle.  A few berries scattered artfully on top.  And it was only yesterday that we were making hazelnut sour cream waffles with a schmear of homemade chocolate hazelnut goodness, spreading the love at a cooking demonstration designed to introduce and promote our book, In A Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds.

Homemade Nutella is a snap to make, deceptively easy.  Just whiz 5 ingredients (Dutch process cocoa, confectioner’s sugar, chopped hazelnuts, vanilla extract and canola oil) together in a food processor or a Vita Mix blender, as we did in our demo. It keeps for a week or even longer tightly closed in the refrigerator.  The flavor is massive in comparison to the commercial stuff.  Sandy in texture, dark in color and deeply rich in flavor, we love to eat it many ways.  The two best ways come quickly to mind.  First is licked right off of a spoon.  Next is how we prepared it at the demo, same as the advertisement I spied in the supermarket cart: spread on a piping hot waffle.

We made waffles of substance to pair with the spread.  The Hazelnut Sour Cream waffles are both dense and crunchy.  Made in a Belgian waffle maker, they have deep cavities that are easily filled to their brims with the spread. Both hazelnut flour and chopped pieces of hazelnut keep the texture just right: light yet firm with a little golden crust on the outside. The combo is Hazelnut Heaven.  We hope for the day that many folks exchange their trips to the frozen food isle with dusting off their waffle irons and whirring up their blenders.  Our Hazelnut Sour Cream waffles with homemade chocolate hazelnut spread make an easy to prepare breakfast or snack that outshines the commercial combination in every way.




Creamy Crunchy Nut Butter Dip #NutSnackoftheWeek

creamy crunchy nut butter

In the fall, we are always looking for tasty ways to use our abundance of freshly picked apples. Sliced and dipped in our Creamy Crunchy Nut Butter Dip, our crisp apples make a great breakfast, mid day snack, or night time treat.

2 cups reduced fat Greek yogurt

1 cup natural nut butter, almond, peanut or cashew (or any you prefer)

4 tablespoons maple syrup or honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped nuts (almonds peanuts or cashews)

Serve with sliced crisp apples

  1. Combine the yogurt and the nut butter in a small mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  2. Mix in the maple syrup, vanilla and nuts (reserving a few to sprinkle on top)
  3. Serve immediately with slice apples.

Recipe reprinted from In A Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. Copyright © 2014 by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Liquid Gold: Beautiful Nut Oils

Nut OilsColorful bottles of nut oils lined up on a store shelf make us want to go home and cook.  Open the top and the essence of the nut is with you, as if you have cracked open a shell.  But cooking with nut oils is not the same as cooking with the nuts and seeds themselves.  Here is why:

Nut oils are fragrant delicate liquids that don’t hold up to much heat.  We prefer the ones that are labelled cold pressed, because they have been created with care.  When heat is added to the oil production process it denigrates the inherent flavors a tiny bit.  Cold pressing extracts just the fats without heat harming the oil, and it’s name ” cold pressed” is as descriptive as can be.  When people first gathered nuts and seeds to eat they soon learned that crushing them would release their oils, creating another useful product from the wonders around them.  Now nut and seed oils are made in industrial settings with big steel rollers doing the work, no longer crushed between 2 stones as in times long ago.  It may be quicker and therefore less expensive to apply heat, but cold pressed oils have flavors that are the essences of the nuts, truer and brighter than the warmed commercial alternatives.

The best use of most nut oils is in finishing a recipe, when no further heat is applied.  We drizzle them on top of soups about to be served or whisk them in to salad dressings.  A little goes a long way, their flavors are intense.  We buy them in the smallest possible quantities because their shelf lives are limited, and we don’t want to waste a drop by spoilage.  Keep them closed, cool and dry, and once opened, inside the refrigerator is the place to store them.  We pair the flavor of oil with the same nut when we can.  The oil elevates the nut’s inherent flavor, underscoring it’s best fragrant qualities.