I discovered the joy of Nutella in France the summer I was 17.
The rich hazelnut-chocolate spread seemed like some sort of miracle product. Best of all, it was served first thing in the morning.
Chocolate. For breakfast.
My 17-year-old self found this fantastic. I would slather Nutella on a tender brioche or crusty baguette to accompany my café au lait. It was so much more decadent than the piece of toast or bowl of cereal that I would have back home, where chocolate – even of European extraction – was hardly considered an acceptable breakfast food.
Some 20 years after my first taste, I’m not ashamed to admit I still enjoy the creamy combination of roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and cocoa. Sometimes, I will still eat it by the spoonful.
It’s definitely a guilty pleasure.
One tablespoon of the beloved confection contains 100 calories, 6 grams of fat and 10.5 grams of sugar. And who can stop at just one tablespoon?
With more than 20 million “likes” on Facebook, Nutella – which turns 50 this year – has developed a kind of cult following, both here and abroad. There are countless Pinterest pages devoted to Nutella recipes. There’s even an unofficial food holiday dedicated to appreciating the product. The eighth annual World Nutella Day, created by an American blogger living in Italy, took place Feb. 5. One of its slogans is “Keep Calm and Carry a Spoon.”
I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with the stuff. But it does make me happy to see the thick and gooey spread in local grocery stores. Oftentimes, I give in and buy a jar, sometimes even a big jar. OK, usually a big jar.
These days, Nutella is readily available in America. But that wasn’t always the case.
The treat originated in post-war Italy when bakery owner Pietro Ferrero began adding ground hazelnuts – plentiful in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy – to cocoa, extending a product that was in short supply due to rationing.
Nutella came on the market nearly 20 years later, in 1964, as a breakfast and snack food for children. It took almost another 20 years before Nutella came to America. By 1983, it had limited distribution in the Northeast.
Ten years later, I tried it for the first time as a teen. About a decade after that, I began to see it in stores on the West Coast.
The combination of hazelnuts and chocolate is classic, particularly for dessert. It’s still good by the spoonful or spread on a baguette. This easy-to-make dense dessert spices things up a bit.
Mexican Chocolate Nutella Tart with Candied Orange Peels or Hazelnuts
Inspired by SmellGoodKitchen.com’s Nutella Mini Tarts from Jan. 1, 2014, and Gimme Some Oven’s Mexican Spiced Dark Chocolate Tart from Jan. 4, 2013
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup ice water
1 cup Nutella
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8 to 10 candied orange peels, for garnish (optional)
Hazelnuts, for garnish (optional)
Powdered sugar, for garnish (optional)
For the crust: Pulse flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until well mixed. Add butter and pulse, then add water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition, until pea-sized crumbs form. Place dough onto floured surface. Form dough into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, flatten dough into pie pan and up the sides to form crust and bake for 30 minutes or until light golden brown.
For the filling: While crust cools, combine Nutella, cream, vanilla, salt, cornstarch, cayenne and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a whisk. Once mixture is boiling, continue to stir as it thickens, another 3 to 4 minutes. Pour into baked pie crust shell. Let cool, then refrigerate at least an hour to set. Before serving, decorate with candied orange peels or hazelnuts, and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Note: For more flavor, use ½ cup of hazelnuts and 1 cup of flour for the crust, instead of 1 ½ cups flour, and add ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon.
Candied orange peels: I’ve reposted the recipe published March 5 on the Too Many Cooks blog, www.spokesman.com/ blogs/too-many-cooks.