It’s so quintessentially Italian, it’s almost a national flavour emblem. It would be tantamount to treason for an Italian to dislike the heady combination of chocolate and hazelnuts. Consider the place that Nutella‡ has in the Italian national psyche …
The origin of the name comes from a character in Italy’s Commedia dell’ Arte, Gianduja, a cheerful character who loves to eat, drink and be merry. He is an official symbol of Torino, in the northern region of Piemonte. It is here where some of the world’s most flavourful hazelnuts are grown. It is also the home of Ferrero’s Nutella, and Caffarel, the company whose signature chocolate is the Gianduotto, a smooth, sweet hazelnut and milk chocolate in the shape of an upturned boat.
Even further south, the allure of this combination has taken hold and is firmly part of tradition. Think of Baci chocolates from Perugia, with a whole hazelnut encased in a hazelnut praline centre, coated in smooth dark chocolate … each one with its own romantic message attached. Swoon.
Certainly, no great gelateria, anywhere in Italy, would be caught out without its own version of a gianduja or Bacio gelato on offer. Generally these are richer ice-creams based on hazelnut paste. I want to say WOW. Because a great gianduja ice cream is seriously WOW. Gianduja is special. WOW.
So here is my version. Or, at least, one of my versions, of a gianduja ice cream. As usual, this is a churn free zone as I don’t have the space for a gelato machine at home, nor the inclination to clean it every time I use it. So, this ice-cream is one of my semifreddo-style gelati. The texture is very rich and smooth as it should be … it doesn’t set hard when frozen but it’s not frothy and light like a soft-serve either. Gianduja is serious business in the gelato department.
You can set aside a portion of the hazelnuts after toasting them, if you want to add them to the ice cream (chopped) for added texture. If doing that, I usually reserve about 25 – 30 grams, chop them, and add them to the cream with the chocolate hazelnut paste. Eccò! Bacio ice-cream! I have not done that here, as I made it for my father this time, and he prefers it without the chopped hazelnut pieces. Go figure.
I hope you enjoy this ice-cream. It’s wonderful on its own, served scooped in a bowl, or atop a waffle cone.
Served with delicate hazelnut biscotti and a glass of Frangelico liqueur, it makes a sophisticated and decadent dessert.
Simple but very very cool.
‡I don’t want to rant about Nutella but one has to acknowledge that it is no longer the wonderful spread that it used to be. We all know why. No point getting on a soapbox about it here The recipe has changed dramatically over the years, which is unfortunate, as it is now a much more sickly sweet chocolate spread with some rather dubious ingredients. Rather unfair to children today, in my humble opinion, as the original was a sublime experience. It was divine. I think most people over the age of 30 or 4o probably love Nutella for the sweet memories of childhood it invokes. I certainly do. *stares dreamily into the distance*
These days, it’s a great idea to make your own and capture that wonderful flavour again. It’s also easy.
110 grams hazelnuts
25 grams sugar
100 grams couverture at a minimum 70% cacao*
125 grams sugar
50 millilitres water
3 egg yolks
2 egg whites
500 millilitres double/heavy cream, chilled
*I used Valrhona’s Coeur de Guanaja for this recipe. It’s a very technical couverture that has a much lower cacao butter content than usual. It has a minimum of 80% cacao mass and 34% cacao butter. Most couvertures have a cacao butter content around 50% or so. It’s wonderful for making creams, ice-creams, and mousses and anything where you want intense chocolate flavour but wish to keep a creamier consistency. There is no need to use this chocolate – any good quality couverture will be fabulous.
Toast the hazelnuts in a 180℃ oven for about 6 – 8 minutes. You will smell the lovely toasty aroma, but do keep an eye on them so they don’t over-roast and burn. Remove and place on paper towels or a tea towel and use to rub off as much of the skins as possible. Let the hazelnuts cool, and then place in a food processor or nut grinder with the 25 grams of sugar. Grind until the nuts and sugar form a paste. This will take some time. Make sure to scrape down the bowl now and then so that the nuts are evenly ground. It’s OK if a few nut pieces remain. Set aside.
Chop or grate the couverture and place in a bowl. Melt the couverture in a microwave or over a pan of hot water until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and add the hazelnut paste. I use a whisk to gently swirl the nut paste into the melted chocolate. You will get a lovely chocolate hazelnut creamy paste … oh, hang on, that’s very NUTELLA 😀
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over a low-medium heat. Let the sugar dissolve and bring to the boil. Do not stir. Place the egg whites in a bowl nearby. Have the egg yolks ready in a separate bowl.
When the syrup has begun to boil watch it carefully. Insert the candy thermometer in the syrup and wait until it reaches 115℃. As you do this, beat the egg whites until they reach soft peak stage only. When the syrup is ready, pour half of it in a thin and steady stream into the egg whites, as you continue to beat them on high-speed. Set the remaining syrup aside, off the heat for now. Continue beating the egg whites until they are glossy. Set the meringue aside.
Return the syrup to the heat if required, just to melt it a little (it may start to set if it cools too quickly). Beat the egg yolks. Pour the remaining syrup into the egg yolks in a thin steady stream as you beat them on high-speed. Continue beating until the egg yolk mixture is light and tripled in volume.
Make sure the cream is chilled. Place the heavy cream in a large bowl. Using a hand-held whisk, gently whisk until thickened slightly. Gently fold the chocolate hazelnut paste into the cream, using the whisk.
Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the cream. While you can be a little heavy-handed, you still want to keep the lightness of all that air we’ve beaten into the eggs. Finally, gently fold in the meringue until no streaks remain.
Place into an airtight container and freeze until ready to serve.