I have a new life goal: work for America’s Test Kitchen. I picked up their new D.I.Y. book at the library, choosing it off the shelf almost at random. Then I read it cover to cover. This is sooo much more than a cookbook (if you read that in Mr. Bean’s voice and imagined him wrapping it in a bag filled with candy and a sprig of holly, we should be friends). It covers everything from ketchup to cheese to thin mints, and I want to make everything. It has to go back to the library soon, and I think I’m going to have to buy it. I’m totally and completely hooked.
I’ve been craving nutella for a while now (it’s pretty much my default state, to be honest), so it was an easy choice for what to make first. It was also incredibly simple: roast the nuts, grind them in a food processor, add cocoa powder and some sugar. Try not to eat it all at once. That last instruction is the hardest part. One of the really cool things about making your own nutella (or any nut butter, really) is watching the transformation from whole nuts to small bits to paste. I always watch the food processor work, never quite believing that the chopped nuts will turn into the smooth cream I’m after.
But they do, and the reason for that small miracle is the high oil content. Grinding nuts with a food processor not only cuts the large whole nuts into smaller pieces, it damages the individual cells. The nut cells contain tiny pockets of oil called oil bodies which are usually separated from each other and the rest of the cell. When the cell is damaged, though, the contents of the oil bodies merge and the solid pieces of nut flesh are surrounded by the released oil. Think of a tub full of water balloons. When the balloons are intact, they all stay separate, but things change fast when you start popping the balloons. Once you’ve popped enough of them, you have a tub full of water with balloon pieces swimming in it. The ratio of oil to nut solids changes the texture of the result, giving you something that’s more paste than soup.
The large amount of oil in nuts is pretty unique among seeds. Grinding up wheat seeds gives us flour, a fine solid, while grinding up peanuts gives us peanut butter. Wheat is 70-80% starch and at least 10% water, leaving less than 20% oil. Nuts, on the other hand, are 40-70% oil. Peanuts come in at 48%, almonds at 54%, and hazelnuts at a whopping 62% (thanks, McGee, for your handy tables). All that oil makes nut butters smooth and creamy and also satisfies our fat-hungry tastebuds and stomachs. Luckily the oils are mostly monounsaturated fatty acids (the carbon chains have one double-bond, giving the molecule a bend in the middle), which are generally considered better for you than saturated fats (the kinds with no double bonds, making the molecules straight).
But enough about nutrition. The real reason I love this so much has nothing to do with monounsaturated anything and everything to do with how it’s amazingly delicious.
I made this with a friend of mine on a recent Saturday spent entirely in the kitchen. She told me that I should put a caution label on it because it’s “too good.” So consider yourself warned. This spread is fantastic on toast, pancakes, bread products of all kinds–and eaten straight from the jar with a spoon.
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups
2 c. hazelnuts
1 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder
2 T. hazelnut or other oil (I used vegetable)
1 t. vanilla
1/8 t. salt
Arrange the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees F for 12-15 minutes, until the skins are dark brown. Transfer the nuts to a bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Cover the bowl with another bowl and shake to remove the skins.
Place the peeled hazelnuts in a food processor and have at it. It takes about 5 minutes of processing to release the oil and form a paste.
Add the sugar, cocoa powder, oil, vanilla, and salt, and continue processing until the mixture becomes glossy. This takes about 2 minutes.
It’s done! You can eat it immediately (as we did, of course), but it will keep for about a month in an airtight jar.
Recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen d.i.y. cookbook, which I love.