There is a substance out there in the universe so coveted, the mere presence of it brought chaos to an Ivy League university as students hoarded it like gold. The name of it, when called out, causes heads to swivel in the hopes there is some to be had. People clamor for it as if it is some sort of currency. Except it would do no good as currency. You would eat it so fast you would be “broke” in a matter of minutes. It is Nutella. And I love it.
Or at least, I did love it. It now contains the ominous spectre of high fructose corn syrup, a substance I try to avoid. There are other varieties out there, but honestly, they fall a little flat in comparison to the original. I was resigned to abandoning my love affair with the chocolatey hazelnut goodness. And then one day a cookbook arrived on my door. A magical cookbook full of ways to make your own things most sane people would just buy already made. Inside the wondrous pages of this cookbook lies a simple recipe for chocolate hazelnut spread. Nutella. From scratch. With six ingredients. I had to try it (with a tiny tweak here and there, of course.)
It all begins with the roasting of hazelnuts, an always welcome task, the warm scent of roasting hazelnuts gently draping across the kitchen. A vigorous shake in a bowl sends the dark papery skins flying, and you inevitably sit, pinching at the skins that have refused to release themselves, wondering why on earth you decided to do this? What insanity would drive you to sift through over a hundred hazelnuts, plunking them one by one into the bowl of the waiting food processor? These thoughts are lost quickly, though, in the gentle crackle of the cooling nuts, each crack letting loose a little more of that warm roasted aroma.
And from there… magic. A press of the button on the food processor, and the whirling blades (after an initial noise that sounds like the end of times) pulverize the hazelnuts into dust. They blades keep whirling, slowly drawing the natural oils out of the nuts. The whole mass suddenly seizes into a ball, clunking about the bowl, and then, with a shudder, the oils fully release and the whole thing sinks back into a creamy smooth paste (this will never have the absolute smoothness of actual Nutella.)
Some confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder is thrown in. A generous pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla extract gets thrown into the fray. The button is depressed again, a poof of powdered sugar and cocoa powder explode inside the bowl. A bit of hazelnut oil is drizzled through the top, the dust settles, and suddenly a dark and glossy substance appears. The substance that caused chaos. The substance that causes heads to swivel. And here it is. Warm. Gooey. Nutty. Chocolaty. You will consider whether or not you will share it. You wonder how long it will keep. And then you realize you will never know, because you have already dipped a spoon in to taste, and you know without a shadow of a doubt that this spread is not long for this world.
Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (adapted ever so slightly from the America’s Test Kitchen DIY cookbook)
Makes a little less than a pint
2 cups raw whole hazelnuts (if you can find them unskinned, this will go all the quicker)
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. hazelnut oil (a quick aside here. Hazelnut oil is not cheap, no two ways about it, but it does add a lovely hazelnut kick to this. If you parse it out, one bottle will likely get you dozens upon dozens of batches, so it will be worth it, but it is really hard to swallow the price of the initial purchase. If you don’t’ want to do it, you can use a neutral oil like canola or sunflower.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread hazelnuts out on a baking sheet. Roast for 12 – 15 minutes, until the skins have turned dark brown, the exposed parts a lovely light gold. You will also know by scent. When you actually start to really smell them, they are likely done. Don’t let them go too long. Even 30 seconds too long can burn them. Pull them out of the oven and pour them into a large bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, place a plate or another bowl over them and shake vigorously. This should get most of the skins off. Carefully remove the skinned hazelnuts and place them in the bowl of a food processor. It is not the end of the world if there are some skins in there, but try to get rid of as many as you can, as they will make it bitter. Bribe people into helping you by saying they get to like the bowl when it’s done.
Once all the hazelnuts are in the food processor, pulse a few times until they are pulverized. This will be unbelievably loud. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then just… hit the button. Let the food processor run. After a minute or two, the nuts will seize up into a cohesive mass. Keep letting it run. After about four minutes total, the oils will come out and the whole thing will turn into a smooth mass. Stop the food processor, add in the confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and vanilla extract, replace the cover and turn it on again. Drizzle the hazelnut oil through the hole on the top of the bowl, and keep blending until it becomes dark and glossy, which should only take a couple of minutes. Scrape it all out into a jar or other storage container, and there you have it. You can store it, covered, at room temperature. It should be fine for a couple of weeks. I’ve never had it last longer than five days. Good luck with that.