Cloying is a great word. It means “disgusting or distasteful by reason of excess. For example, cloying sweetness, excessively sweet,” Maybe it is its similarity to clawing that makes it so evocative, or maybe my brain has linked it to the sharp, desiccating sensation I get when I taste something so sweet, like commercial Nutella, that I want to scrape it off my tongue and rinse out my mouth.
As with most things, fresher is tastier. This procedure yields choco-hazelnut butter that tastes like its main ingredient, freshly roasted hazelnuts, with an accent of bittersweet chocolate and just enough salt and sweet to make your tongue feel alive. This stuff is fantastic with fresh, crispy-crust bread. I have been known to make it after a loaf of bread comes out of the oven to make use of the excess heat.
Start to finish, including measuring stuff, roasting nuts, processing, and packaging, is about 35 minutes. You can probably go faster if you overlap some things, like melting chocolate at the tail end of roasting nuts. Let me know if you optimize!
- 1 lb of raw hazelnuts (Filberts). It’s ok to overshoot. I buy mine from bulk bins. They come with the skins on, shells off. Depending on the grade, this costs $12-18 where I live.
- 3 oz (1/2 cup) of bittersweet chocolate chips. I use Ghirardelli BitterSweet (60% Cacao) chips. A 10 oz bag of this costs around $3 where I live. Feel free to substitute whatever chocolate chips you like except maybe white chocolate, which doesn’t have any chocolate flavor. Be aware of the sugar content. With semisweet or milk chocolate, you may end up with something a bit sweeter than I like, even without adding extra sweetness, but you might like it!
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of maple syrup. I like the subtle flavor of maple syrup. Its liquid nature allows it to blend into the butter without affecting texture. Also, using maple syrup as the sweetness means that all three main ingredients — hazelnuts, chocolate, and maple syrup — come from trees, which is sort of poetic and beautiful.
- 1 sheet pan that has a rim
- A set of potholders
- An oven capable of 275 degrees F.
- A thermometer in the oven so you know how hot it actually is.
- A double boiler setup. I use a wok on top of a saucepan.
- A food processor
- 1 rubber spatula
Roasting and Grinding the Hazelnuts
- Preheat your oven to 275 F.
- Pour the hazelnuts onto a dry baking sheet. There’s no need to put down parchment or foil. Take a couple of minutes to pick through the hazelnuts and remove anything that shouldn’t be there. It’s ok the leave the skins on.
- Roast the nuts for 15-20 minutes. Start with 15 minutes and do a taste test. Both the Oregon Hazelnut Commission and this Turkish academic paper on the effect of roasting temperatures on the nutritional value of hazelnuts recommend 275 F for 15 minutes. Sometimes, I find that the hazelnuts taste a little bit better and get a little crunchier with a couple more minutes of roasting, up to 20 minutes. A different Turkish paper on optimum roasting conditions for taste suggests 145 C (293 F) for 20 minutes is optimal. Turkish people must be serious about hazelnuts!
- Remove the nuts from the oven and either pour them into a bowl to let them cool a bit or place the sheet pan on a cooling rack.
- Pour the roasted nuts into your food processor. I’ve found that the product tastes and looks fine with the skins included. I’ve made this with the skins removed and found it’s not worth the hassle.
- Add 2 teaspoons of salt.
- Grind to a paste. It will be LOUD at first. It will turn into a coarse meal, then start to fluidize and flow. You might need to knock bigger particles down from the top of the bowl.
Melting the Chocolate
Using steam to heat the pan containing the chocolate rather that direct heat from the burner prevents scorching. If you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t), you can put a pan or heatproof bowl on top of a saucepan of boiling water. I use a wok. It’s like a bowl with a long handle.
- Put a couple of inches of water in the saucepan and turn the burner on high to get the water boiling.
- Place your pan or wok on top right away. It acts as a lid and saves energy.
- Pour about 1/2 cup, or about 3 oz of chocolate chips into the pan. Err on the side of less chocolate. It can easily overpower the delicate flavor of the roasted hazelnuts.
- Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula to help with the melting.
- When the chocolate is melted, wipe the bottom of the pan containing the chocolate dry and transfer the melted chocolate into the food processor bowl.
- Turn on the food processor to blend the chocolate and the hazelnut butter.
- Taste a sample. If you like more chocolate flavor, add more chocolate.
- Adjust saltiness. Add salt 1/2 teaspoon at a time if it would taste better saltier. Run the food processor for 5 seconds between additions. Taste after each blending.
- Adjust sweetness. Add maple syrup 1 teaspoon at a time if it would taste better sweeter. Run the food processor for 5 seconds between additions. Taste after each blending.
Voila! You’re done. I store fresh hazelnut butter in a lidded, microwave-safe container in the fridge. It solidifies in there. I pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds before spreading it on toast. It liquifies and the yummy hazelnut aroma is stronger when it is warm.