So here’s a little snack of information - without Napoleon Bonaparte, there would be no Nutella. You read that correctly - no pint-sized dictator, no smooth chocolate-hazelnut spread. Now, if you are a food nerd like me, you find that fascinating and may continue reading this post. If you are not and you don’t, just skip to the bottom and follow the recipe.
Good, you’re still with me. Let me set the scene of my culinary-political discovery for you. It’s a cold and rainy day in Torino (a.k.a. Turin, for us Anglos), the northern city and former capital of Italy.
On this inclimate day, I am with my beloved partner in crime, and we have ducked into the cafe Guido Gobino, to escape the freezing rain. Inside, resting under the beams of the recessed lighting is my personal version of the Holy Grail: a gravy boat filled with a thick, molten chocolate-hazelnut beverage. And I don’t say this with the irony of a woman that “loves” chocolate and uses it to eat her emotions in the office at 3:00 p.m. I mean that the sight of this glorious chocolate-filled vessel resonated within the depths of my soul, making my heart go so aflutter that I felt it in my toes. Thank God I have a husband who finds such extreme reactions to food charming.
Being in Torino, one of the great food capitals of the world, this gravy-boated delight, cioccolata calde fondente, was not just souped-up hot chocolate. No, this drinkable meal was made from gianduja (“jon-du-yah”). Gianduja is what the Italians call the beloved flavor combination of chocolate and hazelnut. Stateside we know it as Nutella. But true gianduja is so, so much more.
Heaven's gates opened when the rich, thick and deliciously warm cioccolata calde fondente was set in front of me. Served alongside of the cioccolata calde fondente was a small bowl of luscious panna montata (whipped cream) to temper the liquid’s rich intensity, and it only added to the moment’s perfection. With each spoonful I fell more deeply in love. I found myself wondering, to whom do I owe my deepest and unwavering gratitude for creating such a pure and sinful treat?
Indeed, that is when I learned that Napoleon Bonaparte, holder of a most dubious political record, was the object of my eternal appreciation. You see it was the ever-humble Holy Roman Emperor who set in motion the wheels of political strife that would ultimately lead to me, sitting in Guido Gobino, indulging in pure, unadulterated gluttony.
Allow me to give you a grotesquely simplified snippet of European history. It started with a young Napoleon Buonaparte. Born in Corsica, Italy to a nationalist father, the juvenile Napoleon was born hating the French. But in his later years, Dad changed his tune, and an older Napoleon found himself embracing la vie en rose. Dropping the dreadfully Italian “u” from the family moniker, Napoleon joined the French military. Along with his new name and uniform, Napoleon adopted France’s historical hatred for the British. As he rose up through the ranks of the French Army, Napoleon found himself with increasing political influence and power.
But influence within France was not enough. Nay, Napoleon believed it was his destiny to run around Europe, demolish monarchies, wipe out feudalism, and give the good folks of Europe a taste of his version of democracy.
Yet somehow, Napoleon found that being the ruler of Europe lacked a certain, je ne sais quois. So, relying on his good old-fashioned patriotism, Napoleon decided to stick it to the Brits for old time’s sake. And so Napoleon’s Continental System, a series of taxes and blockades aimed at crippling the British economy, was born.
With Torino under Napoleon’s rule, and Britain the main supplier of cocoa, Torino chocolatiers found themselves in quite a quandary. Their cocoa supply reduced to a trickle, Torino chocolatiers turned to hazelnut powder. Hazelnuts, one of the region’s largest exports, was readily available, affordable, and ground up much like cocoa.
As the chocolatiers supplemented their cocoa powder with hazelnuts, gianduja, the chocolate-hazelnut combination, was born. And it was good. Strike that - it was amazing. So much so that like the hazelnut, gianduja became a signature of Torino. Even after the blockade was lifted and cocoa powder could once again flow the trade routes unabated, gianduja lived on.
The result of Napoleon’s hatred for the British can still be tasted, and enjoyed, today. Whether it be a classical gianduiotto candy made in Torino, or a jar of Nutella pumped from a factory, the chocolate- hazelnut combination is now a gastronomic go-to.
So merci, Napoleon (or should I say, grazie signore Buonaparte). Your legacy in history is one for debate, but as far as chocolate goes, you were a total rockstar.
Recipe courtesy of the amazing folks at America's Test Kitchen.
Find their D.I.Y. Cookbook on Amazon here.
This recipe is super easy and wildly rewarding. With it's rich hazelnut flavor and naturally nutty texture, you'll never go back to the store bought stuff. It's a bit addicting though, so watch out. Buy (or better yet, make!) a nice loaf of bread, and chow down.
1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. With the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, roast until they are fragrant and dark brown, about 12-15 minutes. Halfway through the roasting process, rotate the pan. Keep an eye on the nuts though, as they can go from toasted to burnt in the matter of moments.
3. Place the hazelnuts in a bowl to cool. Now it's times to remove the skins. This can be done one of two ways. One way (shown) is to place the nuts in a bowl, and place another bowl on top. Vigorously shake the two bowls - this will cause the skins to release. Alternatively, and not shown, wrap the nuts in a dish towel and roll the wrapped hazelnuts back and forth on the kitchen counter to remove skins.
4. Whichever method you choose, I suggest shaking the nuts in a sieve to further ditch the little bits of skin.
4. Process the peeled hazelnuts in a food processor until their oil is released and they form a smooth, loose pasted. This should take about 5 minutes and you should scrape down the bowl often.
5. Add sugar, cocoa powder, oil, vanilla and salt and process until fully incorporated and the mixture begins to loosen slightly and become glossy. This will take about 2 minutes, but I let mine go longer to get it nice and shiny. Again, scrape down the bowl often, maybe every minute or so.
6. Transfer the spread to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Chocolate-hazelnut spread can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated up to 1 month.
A couple of notes about this recipe:
- I found that this recipe yielded roughly 11 oz of spread. That was a touch annoying because I only had 8 0z and 16 0z mason jars on hand. Just something to think about when you plan for your storage apparatus.
- The recipe calls for hazelnut oil, but vegetable oil works well. I used vegetable oil because I am cheap and didn't want to spend the $14.99 at Whole Foods for a 17oz can of hazelnut oil. The hazelnut oil might be worth the investment down the road, but this stuff was so good with the vegetable oil, I can't imagine the hazelnut oil making that big of a difference...
- This recipe was so easy, the next time I make it, I plan to double the recipe, just to have an extra jar or two on hand for company or a last minute hostess gift. Just food for thought. Especially if you're coming over to my house for dinner.