September 8, 2009

Separation Anxiety

It's times like this that I want to get a degree in food science....

Labor Day provided the opportunity to spend a day in the kitchen. My main project for the afternoon was a recipe for Mediterranean Focaccia from La Cucina Italiana magazine.

It was stuffed with escarole, provolone and sauteed onions and topped with tomatoes and roasted yellow peppers. It felt a bit like a thick crust pizza and ate like a meal! While the focaccia was a fairly simple and uneventful 4-hour process, my other project did not go quite so smoothly.

It all started couple of weeks ago, when we finished off a big jar of Nutella that a good friend had brought us from Italy last time she visited. Of the many things I miss about Italy, Nutella is pretty high on the list. I just can't bring myself to buy American Nutella. It doesn't really taste the same, and the "modified palm oil" that up until about a year ago was "partially hydrogenated" oil makes me particularly wary. Since "modified" doesn't have a specific definition when it comes to food processing, I'll just stay away. This brings up the problem of where to get more Nutella. I tried store-bought, all natural hazelnut-chocolate spread in the past and just ended up being disappointed. So I decided to give homemade Nutella a whirl. If I can successfully grind a nut butter in my food processor, how hard could it be to add a little sugar and chocolate?

The ingredients for Nutella on the Italian website are listed as follows (translated from the Italian):
sugar, vegetable oil, hazelnuts (13%), defatted cocoa (chocolate in powder form with cocoa butter content of less than 20%, I think it might be the same thing as unsweetened cocoa powder), powdered skim milk (5%), powdered milk whey, soy lechitin, flavors (which I assume, after comparing the American version, is some sort vanilla flavoring).

The ingredients on the American website are:
Sugar, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (from milk), soy lecithin: an emulsifier, vanillin: an artificial flavor.

Using the ingredient lists as a guide and doing some googling for other homemade Nutella recipes, I came up with a plan:

I started out with 3 cups of hazelnuts, toasted them on a sheet pan at 400°F for 9 minutes, let them cool for a few minutes, and attempted to rub the skins off with a damp flour sack cloth. Except for the few stubborn hazelnuts that didn't want to let go of their skins, everything was going fine.

Into the food processor with the hazelnuts. I processed the nuts for several minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally and waiting for the nut butter to form. It eventually did. It may have gotten a little less grainy if I had let it go for a couple minutes more, but the nuts were so warm by this point, I was sure I was doing damage to their nutritional integrity...but I didn't know how to avoid it.

Next, I added about 3/4 cup of cocoa powder, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, about 1/4 cup of hazelnut oil and a couple pinches of salt.

On went the food processor again. Seeing that the mixture was too dry, I slowly drizzled in some more oil, with the processor running. At this point I had a spreadable, if slightly grainy, product. After sampling, however, my trusty taste-tester and I decided there was something missing...what was it? Well, there's milk in both ingredient lists: the Italian version has powdered skim milk and the American just skim milk. Could that make the product creamier and give it that extra depth of flavor I was looking for? Without really stopping to consider the potential consequences, I drizzled a tablespoon or two of skim milk into the food processor. Much to my disappointment, the mixture did not become smooth and creamy... instead, it began to separate!!!

Almost immediatley the chocolatey, hazelnutty mixture began releasing oil and no amount of processing could incorporate it back in. I added more sugar and cocoa and processed some more. I tried transferring it to my stand mixer and beating it with the paddle attachment, in hopes that it would form some sort of cohesive product. No such luck.

I poured off about half a cup of oil while my husband searched the internet for solutions. The first thing we came across suggested adding whole milk. I should have known it wouldn't work, but I gave it a shot anyway. Then we searched on "emulsifiers." Among the results were honey, soy lecithin, and egg yolks. First I tried a bit of honey. It didn't seem to do much. And since I don't keep soy lecithin in the pantry, I was left with egg yolks (which contain lecithin, as it turns out). So I beat a couple yolks with sugar until they turned thick and pale yellow, then continued to beat them in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (to heat them enough that they would be safe to eat). Once they had been heated and cooled, I beat them into the mixture. I am not convinced that they made a big difference, but somehow I ended up with a thick mass of chocolate and hazelnut and sugar goo that tastes surprisingly like Nutella. The texture is nowhere near where it should be, but it's kind of spreadable and tasted quite good on our multigrain toast this morning.

Someday I'll attempt homemade Nutella again. But for now, after the $25 I spent on the raw hazelnuts and hazelnut oil, I think it might be worth giving another all natural store-bought spread a try. Or maybe I'll just go to Italy and pick up a few jars...


drewc said...

Liz! The Italian wholesaler in Chelsea Market sells Italian Nutella. Next time I'm in that area I'll pick some up for you.

brooke said...

You can order it online here: It's not cheap, but neither are your ingredients, it seems!

I'm liking your food blog, by the way.

efm said...

Wow! This is excellent news! I could only ever find foreign retailers online who sold Italian Nutella. I should have thought of New York, though. They have everything there, don't they?
Thanks guys!!!

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