Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Nutella Experiment

One of my sisters is very limited in her eating choices. There are many things that she does not like for one reason of another and thus, when she finally finds a food that she REALLY likes, she eats it like it's going out of style! One of her latest fads is the famous Nutella hazelnut spread, which she likes on bread for breakfast or lunch.
One day while I was whipping up some natural peanut butter for myself, my mother asked me absentmindedly if I could make my own Nutella. Bing! A light goes on in my head. A challenge. Could I make my own Nutella? I could make my own peanut butter just hard could Nutella be? Just switch nuts and add some chocolate, no problem!...right?
This challenge was quickly deterred when I failed to find any hazelnuts at the grocery store, however, a new store opened about a week later...and THEY did! :) So, fearing it too good to be true, I quickly snatched up 2 bags of "large Californian hazelnuts" and hurried home to see what suggestions I could find on making my own Nutella. I was pleasantly surprised to find several recipes and blogs on the subject, but due to lack of various ingredients or tools I did not pick a single recipe to go off of, but rather decided to approach the matter like making peanut butter with with additions as I had originally planned. Again I asked myself, "how hard could it be?"

I realized my first problem right off the bat: the hazelnuts were not shelled. Ugh. This probably something I should have realized at the moment I bought them...but I'd never actually SEEN a hazelnut before (ok so there is a picture on the Nutella jar, give me a break!) So no big deal, right? I'll just shell these puppies real quick before I toast them and I'm back on track. While I did manage to locate the nutcracker successfully, the actual shelling process proved a bit difficult with shells flying everywhere and most of the nuts ending up in pieces, but after about 30 or so I finally got the hang of it and it was pretty smooth sailing from there.

The next step was to toast the hazelnuts as I always do with all my nuts for peanut butter, cookies, salads, whatever! It just brings out their flavor so nicely I didn't even think twice about it. Next was the tedious work of rubbing and scratching the flaky skin off of the cooled nuts, which I actually think was less fun than the shelling part, but I persevered nonetheless.

So now, with my hazelnuts nicely shelled, toasted, and skinned, I was ready to begin the real Nutella-making business that I had started 2 hours ago!! I placed the whole nuts in my food processor and they ground-up even nicer than the peanuts usually do and quickly formed a grainy paste.

Now I began the very unscientific method of adding small increments of flavorings until I achieved the taste I was looking for. It went something like this: mix, add a tbsp melted semi-sweet chocolate, mix, add a few drops of vanilla, mix, add a tbsp powdered sugar and a tsp cocoa powder, mix, scrape down the sides and bottom, add a little salt, mix, etc. I went through this sequence over and over, inching closer to that unique Nutella flavor. The problem I found when I tasted the mixture and when I had others taste it, was that the toasted flavor and the hazelnut flavor were coming in too strong and the texture was off. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing if you didn't mind that taste, but it just wasn't Nutella. Finally I took a sample to my Nutella-loving sister to try. She said it was close, but not the same, which I already knew. As I headed back to the kitchen to experiment some more she said "you could try adding some milk, Nutella has milk in it you know?" Hmmm...milk? Could that be the key to the ungraspable flavor and  perfectly smooth texture?? It was worth a try.
I thought it was quite an ingenious idea to use heavy whipping cream instead of milk, that way I would get a nice creamy flavor without making the spread too runny. I eagerly added about a tbsp of cream, flipped on the processor, and watched as it disappeared into the chocolaty goo. When I sampled the new creation I was disappointed to find little change. More cream. This time I added twice the amount thinking "it's all or nothing!" and I again turned on the processor to watch the magic. What I saw was actually quite horrifying as my slightly-gritty spread became a thick fudge, something I had witnessed years before when I unwittingly added milk to scorched chocolate. I looked into the bowl with dismay at the mixture that was now far from resembling the jar of Nutella next to it.
With a final act of desperation I trickled a few drops of canola oil into the processor and turned it on to see what the effects would be. The effects were pleasantly surprising! I watched with glee as the the chocolate glob gradually became a nice, glossy, mayonnaise-like consistency! When I sampled the new creation I found it was much smoother than before and though it still lacked a certain sweetness when compared with the Nutella, the distinct toasted flavor was greatly muted to more of a pleasant nuttiness. I decided it was time to stop experimenting before my luck ran out. I quickly toasted a piece of bread and smothered it with some of my still-warm spread and anxiously presented it to my sister. She chewed it carefully before turning to me and declaring: "Awesome!" So in the end, I did not discover the secret to the Nutella flavor *sigh*...but I can live with awesome. 

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