Just Nuts about Hazelnuts…

cropped-Torino-e1367812482559

Piemonte is one of the food and wine world’s best (or worst) kept secrets. Little wonder that the Slow Food Movement is headquartered here because seriously, there is so much great food and wine packed in this little region of Italy than is really fair. Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, & Arneis are but a few of the wine grape varieties that enjoy near legendary status, grown as they are in famous Appellations like Barolo, Alba, Barbaresco, Asti & Gattinara.

Then there’s the food, white truffles, chestnuts, amazing cheeses, rice, all manner of game meats and hazelnuts. Believe me the Piedmontese are literally nuts about hazelnuts, especially when combined with chocolate and of course this is the where the famous Ferrero family of Ferrero Rocher and Nutella fame are based. What culinary extremes, home to not only some of the world’s most highly regarded wines and rare perfumed fungi but also some of the most widely available and popular sugary confections on the planet.

hazelnuts

But why is the chocolate and hazelnut combination so strong here? The Hazelnut part is easily explained, the climate and terrain of the “Langhe” has been well suited to the cultivation of hazelnuts for centuries, but when the new fashion for cocoa was at its peak in Turin during the late 1700’s this fad ran head long into Napoleon’s Regency of Piedmonte. At that very time around the early 1800’s, restrictive trade sanctions and a physical blockade (sound familiar) prevented cocoa and other luxury imports from reaching destinations under Napoleonic control.

Legend claims that it wasn’t much later, that resourceful Piemontese pastry cooks came up with a smooth, sweet and creamy, firm paste of roasted hazelnuts and bitter cocoa to manage the scarcity of the more highly desirable chocolate. They called this confection Gianduja after a carnival character (pictured below) who was a symbol of independence  Interestingly the development of Gianduja  ran pretty much parallel to the development of Milk chocolate a relatively short trek across the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately for the Torinese, milk chocolate went on to conquer the world while Gianduja remained largely a local specialty in Turin.

gianduja2

However fast track almost a hundred years and in 1946 following world war 2, another severe rationing of chocolate apparently led Albanese pastry chef Pietro Ferrero to produce large batch of chocolate-like “Pasta Gianduja” . Importantly because the major ingredient was locally sourced he was able to make this at a fraction of the cost of chocolate candy and this paste proved both popular and profitable. Over the next few years he refined this to a smooth spread finally launching Nutella as we know it in the early 1960’s.

Since this humble start, Nutella consumption has spread from its Italian home into every corner of the globe to the extent that it is estimated or rather claimed on the internet that the weight of Nutella consumed globally each year roughly equates to the mass of the Empire State Building! Whatever the facts, Ferrero’s success has spawned a whole range of imposters and lookalikes of varying quality.

wheres the bread

However last weekend over Easter when I needed some Nutella I found the cupboard bare and the shops closed. With a little research, I realized that I actually had all the ingredients on hand to make a little batch of something very close to a soft pasta Gianduja, and the result surprised me , it was smooth, rich and dairy free with a much more pronounced toasted nutty character and devoid of the rancidity which often plagues the cheap substitutes mentioned earlier.

The other big plus is that it was quite a bit less sugary and with a tiny hint of salt and some nice cocoa bitterness it even has a slightly savoury edge, and just for the record it made a delicious filing for the Hazelnut and Chocolate Danish Pastries we were trialing for next week’s Vintage Festival Breakfasts at Bethany Wines. Try it yourself, it really is ridiculously simple and equally delicious.

Hazelnut and Cocoa Paste 

120g                                     hazelnuts
1/2  cup                               icing sugar
2 tablespoons                    cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon                       sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon                      vanilla paste
tiny pinch                          fine salt

Method:

Roast hazelnuts until lightly golden brown, skin blisters and nuts are fragrantly toasty

roasting nutsroasted nuts- skinningready to grind

Rub in a cloth to remove skins and when cool place in a blender and grind very finely

ground nutsblend 20 secondsadd sugar, cocoa, vanilla , oil and saltblend 20 seconds

Add cocoa, icing sugar, vanilla, oil and salt and process until very fine, smooth, glossy and spreadable, its that simple!

 

My Friend (&) the Chocolate Cake

plated

Medical science over the last 20 years has praised the heart health benefits of dark chocolate, olive oil and red wine, all in moderation of course. S0 I would think that a cake containing all three of these could, or should be labeled a super food, along with chia seeds, quinoa and kale.

And the good news is such a recipe does exist. A few weeks ago, courtesy of a visitor to our Kitchen Studio, I discovered a chocolate cake recipe that includes all three, and well, living in a region where two of these ingredients are locally produced, in excellent supply and of outstanding quality, I figured it would be worth giving it a crack for a lunch we were hosting later that day.

I had to fiddle with the recipe, firstly it was designed to yield a massive cake so that needed adjustment and because it was originally Spanish there were some subtle ingredient changes required, but nothing drastic. Preparing it turned out to be as simple as making a packet mix, and after a slow bake for about 25 mins, it came out of the oven as a dense, moist sponge, all rich and chocolaty, even slightly boozy with a whiff of fresh baked bread.

liquid

Most of the cake was quickly demolished during lunch but the left over’s were packed up and sent home with our co host for his family. Clearly it was a hit because very shortly after I had a call asking if I’d share the recipe? The answer was of course yes, after all,  in one way or another, sharing recipes is pretty much what I do these days.

Diligently I typed up the recipe from my rough notes and edited calculations, promptly flicking them off, quite pleased with myself that this unusual cake not only worked so well, but had proved so popular. However, reality burst my bubble when my friend called the next day to say what she made came nowhere near the cake I had sent over. Of course I ran the recipe again to test why it failed so and it soon became apparent something was very wrong.

dry

The result was a chewy, soapy mass of gloop (my friend was much kinder with her description)  and this threw up some big red flags. It was very clear that I had transcribed the recipe incorrectly because it was way too sugary which accounted for the chewy toffee like character, it had too much raising agent which was clearly responsible for that soapy, chemical trace. So back to my original jottings and on further investigation I discovered that I had listed twice as many dry ingredients (the original quantity) to wet (my modified recipe) Getting measurements like this wrong when transcribing a recipe is  something for which many of my chefs in the past have felt my wrath ….. whoops!

batter

So, egg on my face and a big lesson learnt, never give out a recipe before testing it personally from the final edited version!. But I’m happy to say all is well now, and here is the correct recipe, exactingly tried and tested as evidenced by the photos above and below. To paraphrase the title of a song by Melbourne band My Friend the Chocolate Cake “I’ve got another recipe (and this time it’ll work)”

cake

Ruby Red Wine Chocolate Cake

¾ cup                   plain flour
2 tablespoons      corn flour
½ cup                   cocoa
½ teaspoon         baking powder
1 teaspoon           bi-carb soda
½ teaspoon         fine salt

1 cup                     caster sugar
1                             egg
25g                        yogurt
100ml                   milk
½ cup                  red wine
¼ cup                  olive oil
1 teaspoon          vanilla paste

Method

  • Sift flour, cocoa, raising agents and salt together and add to caster sugar, mix well
  • Combine all wet ingredients in a vitamiser or with a stick blender
  • Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix vigorously with hand beaters or a whisk for 60 seconds, mixture will be quite thin and pourable and will form its own level.
  • Pour into a prepared 16cm spring form or sandwich pan and bake at 170c for 20 minutes or until it springs back to the touch.
  • Allow to sit for 5 minutes then remove from pan and allow to cool (it helps to keep the cake flat for decorating and finishing if you invert the sponge while cooling so that the top is on a flat surface)
  • To serve, simply dust with icing sugar and serve with fresh berries and Jersey cream or sandwich with apricot or raspberry jam.

baked