Hazelnut-based confectionery from the Italian region of Piedmont is famous because of popular sweet spread that contains, among some other not-so-genuine ingredients, chocolate and hazelnuts (we all know what we’re thinking about, there’s no need to cite it), but it’s just the evolution on an industrial, globalized scale of a local tradition that dates back to the Napoléon’s regency.
Woods in the hilly areas of Langhe and Monferrato are full of hazels, and hazelnuts have always been employed in local patisserie – let’s think about famous “baci di dama” (“lady’s kisses”), from the area of Tortona, which are hazelnut cookies paired by a chocolate layer, in the shape of two kissing lips.
According to the legend, one fine day, a confectioner in Turin ran out of chocolate, but he couldn’t get more because Piedmont, at that time, was under Napoléon’s regency and, therefore, under a sort of embargo, so that some goods were short. He decided to “dilute” chocolate with a paste obtained by mashing lightly toasted hazelnuts and sugar, and the result was what we now call “gianduia”.
This easy-to-make dessert is a fresh and creamy cup that contains both ingredients of gianduia, and that resembles all its yummy aroma, yet being lighter and less aggressive to the palate, thanks to cream.
How to make Piedmontese hazelnuts and chocolate cream at home
Ingredients (four servings)
300 g (10.6 Oz) dark chocolate
1 cup cream
150 g (5.3 Oz) shelled hazelnuts + 12 for decoration
1 teaspoonful sugar (optional)
Since this recipe only contains three ingredients, it is crucial that they are of the best quality.
Hazelnuts, in particular, should be of the “tonda gentile” variety, the fine one from Piedmont. It is not so easily available, because nowadays hazelnut market is dominated by fruits grown in Turkey (in Italy, too, where they also have another excellent hazelnut variety, the one called “nocciola di Giffoni”, from Giffoni, by Naples).
Just be sure you use round hazelnuts with a very thin peel, looking like dark chickpeas: they usually are of good quality. Alternatively, chose a kind you know has a delicate, yet full and round taste.
On the other hand, don’t chose a too-dark chocolate (80% or higher), even if it’s finer. A good quality, yet simpler, 60% dark chocolate will be perfect.
Toast hazelnuts in oven at 200°C (390°F) until you can smell their aroma spreading out of your oven. Hazelnuts are dark and they won’t change their look while toasting, but baking them too much will extract a bad taste, so be very careful at this stage.
Once they are ready, mash them in a mortar, to turn them in a fragrant paste.
If you don’t have a mortar, you can blend them with a mixer; be sure to blend them very finely.
In a cup, whip the yolk with a fork, just the little needed to make it fluid. Add one teaspoonful of sugar if it helps and if you like a sweeter taste.
Chop chocolate and start melting it gently in a baine-marie or just by placing it in a small pot on another one with simmering water. Short after the chocolate has started melting, and before the pan becomes too hot, add cream and the hazelnut paste you made, and stir.
Keep on stirring until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture has turned into an uniform color.
Take the pot away from boiling water and place it on low fire, keeping on stirring. Pour the whipped yolk in the mixture and allow the mixture cooking, keeping on stirring until simmering.
Remove from fire, pour the mixture in four heatproof small cups, and let them cool down at room temperature.
Once the cups are cold enough, decorate their surface with remaining hazelnuts and place them in fridge for at least one hour before serving.