Mmm. I am in sensory overload.
I have been roasting hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts in preparation for making hand panned chocolate covered hazelnuts, and Gianduja [pronounced gyan-DO-ya]. What is it? A delicious Italian inspired nut paste and chocolate mixture.
From the Ecole Chocolat website:
“Gianduja is a blend of roasted hazelnuts (or almonds) with milk chocolate that is produced commercially and used for chocolate and dessert fillings. This confection was created in the Piedmont region of Italy in 1861 by Caffarel. Bite size pieces of Gianduja were wrapped in foil. It became even more popular because of the lack of cocoa and abundance of local hazelnuts during the World Wars. It is the luxury version of commercial chocolate spread Nutella which was created in the same region.”
The fragrance of roasting nuts seeps from my oven and through the house: rich, redolent of essential oils and that savoury nutty smell. If I wasn’t hungry when I started, I certainly am now.
And as I wait for the nuts to cool down, they begin a sizzling symphony of soft snaps, and pops, as their skins burst and shrink away from the centres: a delight for the ears, like a light rain falling.
People who have nut allergies do have my sympathy, and I give you fair warning – this post is filled with nuts.
When I was in Portland, a month ago, I had the good fortune to tour the Moonstruck Chocolate Factory, courtesy of master chocolatier, Julian Rose. Our last stop on that delicious tour was at the tumbler room, where they create all sorts of fabulous confections made by tumbling fruits, cacao beans or nuts, in coat upon drizzled coat of fine couverture chocolate, building up the layers, as the centres tumble upon themselves like marbles. I had such a great time watching this machine, and picking up handfuls of the finished tumbles, which slipped through my fingers like pebbles on the beach, that I wanted to try making them at home.
Fortunately, Pam has a wonderfully straightforward and easy method for hand panning (the term for making these morsels), in the Ecole Chocolat curriculum, and speaks so encouragingly of its ease, that I know I must try it with a batch of hazelnuts.
We have a generous hazelnut tree in our back yard, but have always left the harvest to the squirrels – I think mostly because of the amusement factor – watching them hanging upside down, clinging to the slenderest of branches, squabbling at each other and stuffing as many nuts in their cheek pouches as they can, before the other squirrels, is way better than TV.
I make a mental note, after wincing at the price of organic hazelnuts in the store, to compete with the rodents for a share of the hazelnut harvest, this season. I’m not prepared to hang upside down, but they shake off so many in their acrobatics, I figure I can sit in my Adirondack chair first thing in the morning, have a cup of coffee, watch the squirrels at work, then gather up what they let fall. My supremely lazy human ingenuity triumphs again … but in the mean time, I grit my teeth and pay for these nuts.
And Pam is right. Not only is the process straightforward, it is a delight for another sense, as you must use your hands for this process.
First, I rub the roasted nuts lightly between my fingers, to remove any loose pieces of skin, being careful not to press too hard, which would snap them in half. When I have two cups “skinned”, I temper some dark chocolate, place the nuts in a very roomy bowl, and drizzle a scant tablespoon of chocolate over them. Then, I dig my hand in, and tumble them around, over and over, until they have all received a bit of chocolate, and are moving freely over each other. Another tablespoon of chocolate, and my hand goes in again, stirring and manipulating. It is good to have a really big bowl for this process, as you want to allow the nuts to move around each other as much as possible.
This is when it is a luxury to have a helpful partner, who will make you a cup of tea while you are doing this, as it takes a bit of patience – the process cannot be rushed, and your hands will be performing that brain-twisting trick of each doing a separate task: one constantly stirring, the other drizzling chocolate.
A radio program, or a long piece of music, like Bolero, also helps to occupy the mind while the hands are occupied with this meditation – I think my hands have as much of a chocolate coating as do the nuts, at this point. We persevere, and the chocolate goes on little by little, the nuts taking on a rounder shape as they tumble over each other.
When all of the couverture has been used up, the nuts are given a final dusting of fine granulated sugar (I ran the sugar through the food processor for a few pulses). They do look fine, piled up like snowballs, and taste: oh so decadent. They are small, but they really pack a whallop of flavour and crunchy texture.
While these are firming up, I temper some white chocolate, and drop the almonds I have toasted into the food processer. The almonds are ground into a fine paste, and this is added to the white chocolate, for a twist on the classic Gianduja, which is milk chocolate and hazelnut.
I love this combination (I can eat a hedgehog, whole!), and am eager to see if other flavour combinations will also appeal.
I pipe the white chocolate and almond Gianduja into circular blobs and leave them to harden. They might not look pretty, but they prove to be delicious – buttery and almost honey-flavoured, they melt quickly and sweetly in my mouth. Success!
And now I try dark chocolate with walnut – and this proves to be my only disappointment of the day. I fully expected these flavours to go very well together, but I am surprised at the taste. The overriding flavour, I find, is a bitter-ish walnut aftertaste. Perhaps I ground the walnuts for too long, and they became oily – I don’t know, but the combination of tastes is … odd.
After a quick check of the Ecole Chocolat notes on this technique lesson, I see that Pam does indeed mention milk chocolate as the standard, because it allows the taste of the nut to come through.
Hmmm. Perhaps this was a case of two very strong and distinct flavours battling each other instead of harmonizing – and it is another culinary lesson learned!
They will not go to waste however. The teenage tasters – our lunchtime crowd of sons and their friends are due to arrive at any time, and they have never been known to refuse any of my creations, no matter how much of an “Epic Fail” they are to me.
As for the white chocolate roasted almond gianduja, and the panned hazelnuts – they have earned themselves a place in the ever thickening binder of “Keeper” recipes and techniques I have managed with some degree of success.
It is safe to say, the backyard squirrels will have some stiff competition, this summer!