Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hazelnut Fantasy

I recently purchased hazelnut paste from a confectionary/cooking shop that I took pains into finding. It wasn't that it was so hard to find, I was just not too familiar with the area. Anyway, it is a pretty small place, but every rack, table and shelf were jam-packed with so many good stuff!
At first glance, I could've sworn that I wouldn't find anything interesting, and as I was heading toward the door, I noticed some whole cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks up on the shelf. From where I live (in this case, the Philippines), it's not everyday that a store carries them. It ticked my interest. I decided to look more closely.
I went over to the upright chiller, there were whole hazelnuts (it was sooo expensive!), almonds, walnuts and all sorts of dairy. On the the farthest right side was a lone takeout container looking pitiful. It was like finding a treasure when I realized it was a tub of hazelnut paste! The lady manning the store was kind enough to let me try it. She handed me a toothpick (I was thinking more like a little plastic spoon. But, what the heck!), I happily obliged. It had a peanut butter texture, but a taste so sublime and euphoric. It reminded me a lot of my favorite chocolate treat, Ferrero Rocher. Yes, because they're both made with hazelnuts. I just love and worship anything with hazelnut.
On my ride home, my mind was reeling with endless confections I can create with my NFF (read: new found friend). I kept on opening the tub and sniffing the life out of it; It entered my head like an infectious drug.
The first experiment I did was nothing fancy. I wanted the primary taste to come from the hazelnut paste. So, I warmed some heavy cream, beat in a dollop of hazelnut paste and some cocoa powder. The cocoa powder was there to give the whole mixture a three dimensional taste, it isn't exactly a gianduja type, but it was chocolate-y and nutty.

I poured the whole mixture on a ganache coated chocolate cake. I like how it sort of drizzled down thickly. It looked more sinful and decadent; The taste was expectedly rich, but it came mostly from the chocolate cake, not a disappointment, but not exactly how I wanted it. Maybe I shoud've made some hazelnut filling to go inside the cake. The hazelnut in the cream alone was flavorful and evident, but when paired with a strong component, such as the chocolate cake, it tends to be overpowered. I suggest making it into a mousse or if you have a good peanut butter brownie recipe, the hazelnut paste could take the place of the peanut butter. I think that would be lovely.

Still, I loved it, after a few bites, you'd taste the hazelnut alright.

Here's how to make your own hazelnut paste:

Hazelnut Paste*
5 oz hazelnuts
2 T hazelnut oil
1. Toast hazelnuts in a 350deg F oven 5-6 minutes.
2. Wrap with clean towel and rub together until most of the skin comes off.
3. Whizz in food processor until it becomes sandy. Drizzle oil and process, until a paste forms.
*Adapted from Spago cookbook.

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