Happy Gianduja Day!

on February 3, 2020

Today is World Nutella Day, and while we do truly adore the spread, we would like to offer a more sustainable and homemade approach.  Nutella was born here in Italy but it was derived from a classic early 19th century Italian spread called “gianduja” (pronounced john doo ya).

As with many great inventions, gianduja was born from necessity.  When the Venetian empire fell to Napoleon in 1797, the conquerer imposed a ban on British imports in response to a naval blockade installed by the United Kingdom along the coast of France.  This resulted in a strain on cocoa supplies to Italy, crippling Italian chocolatiers.  One such chocolatier named Michele Prochet, from the Piedmont region of Italy, (an area famous for hazelnuts to this day), dabbled with ways to stretch the cocoa supplies out.  He took what little cocoa rations he had, and mixed them with something he had in abundance:  hazelnuts.   He ground the hazelnuts into a paste, added cocoa, vanilla and sugar, then introduced it at a local carnevale celebration in Turin, naming it after “Gianduja,” a marionette who symbolized the Piedmontese villagers.

Fast forward to the 20th century when another Italian chocolatier named Pietro Ferrero (of Ferrero Rocher fame) found himself facing the same challenge as Prochet: a cocoa shortage during World War II.  He took the base of gianduja, added almonds, molasses, and vegetable fat, which resulted in a firm loaf sold in slices.  But it wasn’t until 1949 when one of history’s famous culinary mishaps occurred:  an accidental dose of cocoa butter was mixed in a batch, and the result was a paste soft enough to spread.  Nutella was born.

The original Nutella has changed a lot since then, and bears little resemblance to its grandmother, gianduja.  Here in Venice, we can get delicious homemade gianduja from great chocolatiers like VizioVirtu, that have a smooth consistency similar to Nutella, although we also like to make our own.  This traditional recipe is what we love to keep in the house. It’s a bit grainy due to the limitations of because of our food processor, but we happen to love that texture and also love that we can control the sugar content.  Feel free to experiment with your own tastes — more or less sugar, lighter or darker chocolates, adding spices, or even different nuts!

Gianduja

2 cups (300g) blanched hazelnuts*
⅓ cup (70g) sugar
1 cup (237g) water
1 pound (454g) semisweet of bittersweet chocolate (we like Valrhona Caraibe 66 percent cacao), roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick / 113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup (240g) heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt

In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts and sugar until they form a smooth(ish) paste, stopping often to scrape the sides of the bowl.  This will take about 5 – 8 minutes depending on your machine and how smooth you want to make it.

In a double boiler, or in large heatproof bowl set over a pan of boiling water, melt the chocolate, stirring often until melted.  Be sure the boiling water does not touch the bottom of the bowl, if using that method.  Remove the chocolate from the heat.

Stir in the butter until it melts completely. Add the cream and salt and mix well. Stir in the hazelnut paste. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until cool. It will firm up and turn into a spreadable consistency similar to cream cheese. Keep covered and chilled.  Gianduia can be refrigerated for up to 4 weeks. Before serving, let the gianduja come to room temperature — remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour.

*If you cannot find blanched hazelnuts, toast the nuts in an oven or a hot pan for a few minutes, then place in a lightly damp towel.  Rub the nuts together until the skins fall off.