As I typed the title of this post, it struck me that it could just as well be called “The Season (for) Forgiving” and would be equally apt, considering the usual stresses/regrets/insecurities/excesses that accompany this time of year. But that’s a negative way of looking at things, and who needs Negativity in the week leading up to Christmas?
For the past three years, I’ve stumbled upon an activity that’s turned into some sort of a tradition – making Christmas gifts. I suppose it’s nothing to be surprised about considering the many Christmas cards I used to make for my classmates back in school. Although tedious, it kept this teenager gainfully occupied for the holidays, and gave me a legitimate reason to stake out stationery stores, swooping up pens, markers and craft paper in any and every color. As much as I love a good and productive shopping trip, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as investing a bit of oneself in a gift for the special people in our lives. Especially when it means avoiding the crazy buzz at the mall and saving my sanity from the horribly bad renditions of Christmas songs. Give me Feist and a hot oven any day!
Fast forward 16 years and I’m losing myself, not only in colors and patterns now, but also in the search for the perfect jars and the perfect labels for the homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread and bags of Madeleines that our friends will be receiving this year.
After the notorious macarons of 2009, M likes to joke that I choose to make Christmas gifts from a special list titled “Difficult Things To Make”, because of the time spent on searching for the best recipe and tweaking it to my liking. This spread wasn’t too big a headache considering it’s essentially hazelnut butter mixed with sugar and cocoa. But the Madeleines however, took a lot longer than expected, leaving me in a rather Proustian melancholy for most of last week.
But that’s a story for another time. For this post, here’s my take on a grown-up version of Nutella. In place of cocoa powder I’ve substituted intensely-flavored Cacao nibs that add crunch and a layer of smokiness to the palate, finishing everything off with a pinch of ground espresso for added depth. While still sweet and classically earthy at the start, the punch of dark chocolate follows soon after, accentuated by hints of espresso. For you dark chocolate fans out there, this spread may be the point of no return. You’ve been warned!
10 oz/ 300 grams hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed
2 oz/ 60 grams cocoa nibs
1/2 to 2/3 cup/ 60-70 grams powdered sugar
7 teaspoons unrefined hazelnut oil
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
To toast the hazelnuts, preheat your oven to 300F and spread the nuts on one layer on a large baking sheet. Toast the nuts for about 15 minutes until golden brown, then rub their skins off with a clean cloth. Set aside.
Toast the cocoa nibs by placing them in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they darken and are slightly shiny. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place the nuts and cocoa nibs in a food processor and chop them until they liquefy. Your processor will sound as if it’s throwing a hissy fit and about to implode, but keep your finger on the pulse button until you get a thick, lovely dark chocolate hazelnut butter. The nuts and nibs will first gather into a ball before turning into butter. To help move things along, you may need to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl to ensure that everything is pulverized.
Add the sugar, oil and espresso powder and pulse again, scraping down as needed until everything is well incorporated into a lusciously thick sauce. There will still be chunks of nibs remaining which will give a slight crunch to each spoonful.
Store the spread in clean and dry airtight containers/jars and refrigerate. Bring the spread to room temperature before using.