When I belatedly discovered that last week was National Chocolate Week, I asked myself what my favourite chocolate recipe was, so that I could share it. I wasn’t thinking for very long. This is a great pretext to brag about one of my best achievements in the kitchen. My family and friends' enthusiam about this offering is intense and almost universal, and the joy of creating your own superior version of Nutella is extreme. Try it, but read this first.
I saw a post on Facebook a while ago which showed the contents of a pot of Nutella in a very unappealing way. Terrifying, actually, and it made me think a lot about foods I have eaten my whole life and never questioned.
Now, I adore Nutella. It is amazing. In the past I could never have it in the house because every time I walked past the cupboard I would have to eat a spoonful or two. At university, I would comfort myself around exam time with a pot on my desk as I studied, and work my way through the whole thing. Revolting, I know. Likewise with Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
I know this is not very interesting of me, but I bloody love chocolate. All chocolate. I am a chocolate monster. I even love that cheap Easter egg and Christmas chocolate. But sadly that stuff is not really chocolate. Nowadays I look at every label, and foods I used to eat as a regular treat make me shudder. A Cadbury’s Mini Egg – I know, you’re going to hate me – is almost 70% sugar. Problematic when they’re so moreish. Why can’t cabbage be so moreish?
So this post shocked me, firstly because of the utter slime Nutella contains, and second because it doesn’t really contain much chocolate to talk about. That amazing flavour is actually hazelnut, which you will discover if you try this recipe. It made me cross, that something would be engineered to be made delicious at the expense of healthy, to this degree. This looks dangerously, aggressively unhealthy doesn't it? Sugar, fine, we accept that sugar is delicious and addictive. But look at it: palm oil – do you think it’s sustainable? I don’t. And the quantity of sugar? It made me feel sick. And sad. I could not in good conscience eat Nutella again, let alone feed it to my daughter. No gluten, hardly any dairy, now no Nutella. Damn, it can be miserable.
I think I had a weird idea that if I really enjoyed something it must be doing you good on some level. But what if you could teach yourself to get pleasure out of something good for you? Wouldn't that be brilliant? You absolutely can. You can wean yourself off junk food by learning to make amazing alternatives yourself.
So I decided to find an alternative brand, but they all seemed to contain copious amounts of oil and sugar. And also, I do now try to avoid eating pots of things which last for years, open in the cupboard. It’s alarming isn’t it? Not that a jar of Nutella ever had to pass that test in my kitchen. In theory it could last a couple of years, in reality it would being getting scraped out of the jar and licked off my fingers inside of a week.
I found some recipes for homemade nut butters, and I used these to create my own alternative to Nutella. Andy suggested the name chocnut spread and I like it.
So here it is. I am almost loath to give it up, in a protective mother kind of way! But it is right to share great recipes, so please try it, and don’t give your children Nutella. If possible, avoid them even trying it, so they don't develop a taste for that kind of food. It is utterly vile. And whatever you buy and eat, read the label. Be fanatical about it. You can’t trust big companies to give you good stuff to eat. They just want to hook you by making it taste good at the expense of quality ingredients, and often ethical standards too. They are not interested in your health, so you have to be vigilant, to offset how irresponsible they are on your behalf.
When I make this stuff I still can’t walk past the cupboard without a spoonful, but this comes with much less guilt, and it is not sickly in the way Nutella is. Of course, it still contains sugar, in the form of honey, and roasted nuts in large quantities are terrible for you. Moderation the is key, as with all things.
Recipe with integrated ingredients
For about two jam jars.
Take 400g of hazelnuts. You can buy them blanched, but I buy mine en masse in Lidl where they’re cheapest locally.
You then roast them and skin them by hand. This takes a while. First, spread the hazelnuts on a large baking sheet so the nuts are not on top of each other. Heat the oven to 170C/330F and roast the nuts for ten minutes, then check them. Taste one. It should actually taste a bit like Nutella. They might need a few more minutes, but if you overcook them they are inedible, so watch them closely. At fifteen minutes if you think they’re still not done taken them out and let them rest and see how you feel. You can always put them back in later on. It's a delicate balance between undercooked and burnt.
Leave them to cooI for a while. I usually skin mine in front of the TV, otherwise it feels like a waste of time. Get two bowls, and take a handful at a time, and rub them between your hands to loosen the skin. Put the skinned nuts into the second bowl. Vacuum your carpet or sweep your floor. I get Flora to help me with this. It certainly doesn’t make it go any faster, but I think working with food with your hands is wonderful for children, and I want her to start being involved in making the food she consumes.
They should look like this:
Place the nuts in a food processor. It needs to be a food processor rather than a blender really, or the nuts will get stuck. Now blend them for a good three minutes. It will make a very unpleasant noise so you may want to send the kids out of the room.
At this stage the blended hazelnuts will look so delicious that you won’t be able to resist tasting a bit. This done, take 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and about 75g of raw cacao paste, and place them in a small saucepan over a low heat. Melt them slowly together.
You can use dark chocolate chips, but I do recommend raw cacao - you can buy it in any organic produce shop like Whole Foods and Planet Organic. It contains no sugar, whereas most chocolate is between 20 and 50% sugar. And because the cacao beans are unroasted, the final product retains the benefits of high magnesium and the antioxidant properties, which are eroded by the roasting that regular chocolate has undergone.
Once they are liquid, which will only take a minute or two, switch the food processor back on and pour in the liquid through the funnel. With the motor still running, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, ½ a teaspoon of sea salt, and 2 tablespoons of honey. I implore you to use raw honey – again, the commercial stuff is heated and the beneficial qualities burned away. Honey is pure fructose, so not good for you at all. If you are going to eat it, it should be good stuff with the antibacterial properties it has in its natural state.
Blend for another minute, then taste. Add another tablespoon or two of honey, until you are happy with the sweetness - lots of sampling along the way.
Decant into a couple of jars you have boiled clean. I normally just pour a kettle of boiling water into an old olive jar, but you can do the whole thing properly, like for jam, if you feel you might keep the spread for more than a week. Wash the jars with soapy water, and then place upside down on a baking tray. Place in the oven on 170C for 10-15 minutes and then allow to cool.
This will keep a decent amount of time - certainly a few months at least, as the ingredients are all shelf-stable. Just don't lick the spoon and put it back in the jar unless you mean to finish it! In our house a jar lasts four days max.
Enjoy on toast or on a piece of banana.
In no way am I saying that this is healthy to eat, especially in large quantities. But it is better than Nutella in every way. I don’t plan to eat Nutella again, but if I did I am sure I would find it unpleasant. I recently had a mouthful of Betty Crocker frosting from a plastic pot. I bought it because I had to make a cake and a million other things, and I thought it would be acceptable to use it to save me a bit of time. When I tried it I had to spit it out. I checked the ingredients. Oil, sugar, E numbers. I put it in the bin. The cake was for children and I couldn’t bring myself to feed them that rubbish. At least my buttercream would be full of natural unhealthy ingredients.
But I was shocked by how much I found Betty Crocker’s frosting, which I had previously liked, inedible. I suspect that Nutella would have the same effect. It’s upsetting to know that what you’re eating is a sort of chemical potion meant to taste like something which appeals to your worst eating instincts. I had to wrench the pot from Andy’s hands to get it in the bin. But why eat plastic food? The shelf life of that frosting? About two years. It’s radioactive. Don’t touch it.
I hope you will try the chocnut spread. Most people who have tried it have found it astonishingly good – only a couple have not liked it, but perhaps the Nutella parallel is a little misleading for some. This isn't processed, and it doesn't taste it. Flora likes it very much. We give her a bit on a piece of banana sometimes and she always asks to lick the spoon. And we let her, because we know exactly what’s in it.