We all wish we had more of it. Everyone seems to be time poor these days. I think we have to make more free time for ourselves. It rarely, if ever, just happens. How many of us waste the opportunity when it does, and we’re unprepared? Remember, as a child, how a day seemed so endless? A week felt like an eternity? As an adult, I find myself struck by the lateness of the hour almost every day … where did all the time go? I had so much to do …
In the lead up to a holiday season, it’s especially easy to feel overwhelmed. So now we’re hurtling at warp speed towards yet another Easter … see? time flies, people! For anyone having family and friends over and wanting to make their gathering a real celebration, it’s easy to fall prey to performance anxiety. Well, here’s a thought.
Sometimes the simplest things make the most lasting impressions.
Instead of spending hours over elaborate desserts, pare it all back to something simple. Something memorable … and because it is Easter, something chocolate. A quick and easy dessert that you can whip up in minutes and that will mark you as a gastronaut of astounding skill and remarkable finesse. A magician of the dessert genre. It will also give you more time to spend with friends and family to share the experience, which is important, non? You can make these the day before you intend serving them as dessert.
Nothing is quite as decadent and refined, and yet comfortingly familiar as gianduja. Well, I think so. It’s my favourite, as you well know. Is it yours? It always makes me think of the Piemonte region of Italy, with its wonderful hazelnuts and long gianduja tradition. Most people just think of Nutella … but real gianduja is so much better than Nutella
Turn that gianduja magic into luscious pots de crème and I guarantee you will win over even the harshest of dessert critics (here’s looking at you, mum ).
Pot de crème. It is not a mousse. It is not a custard. It is not a ganache. But it takes the best of all three and brings it all together in a simple chocolate cream. It’s to die for.
These pots de crème make a light but satisfying dessert after a rich Easter feast. Serve them in funky espresso cups or glasses and accompany with some crushed roasted or chocolate covered hazelnuts, crunchy biscotti, or some extra shaved gianduja on top. A little Frangelico liqueur to serve alongside them would be perfect.
You can, of course, buy a block of gianduja chocolate and use that. But I love to make my own. It is easy to do and I get a better flavour by using fresh hazelnuts and a chocolate of my own choosing. That’s how I roll. I would highly recommend making your own. I used one of my favourite chocolates for these chocolate pots, Michel Cluizel’s Vila Gracinda. It is a beautiful single estate chocolate from Sao Tomé, with a genteel 67% cacao, and a lush flavour like warm buttered toast. It’s perfect with hazelnuts. Possibly my favourite chocolate of all time to pair with hazelnuts, in fact. I highly recommend it if you can source it.
You really should give the gianduja a go
The amount of sugar I use to make the gianduja varies depending on the type of chocolate (dark, milk, or white), the percentage of cacao if using dark chocolate, and the purpose for which I’m making it. When using a dark chocolate, I would generally recommend using one that has a cocoa content of less than 70% to avoid dominating the flavour too much and not letting the hazelnuts shine. This gianduja is relatively sweet as it is the only source of sugar in the recipe for the pots de crème.
I hope you enjoy the recipes!
This recipe can be scaled up or down. You will need 200 grams for the Pots de Crème recipe.
240 grams hazelnuts*
200 grams sugar (adjust the amount of sugar down by about 25% for milk chocolate)
240 grams Michel Cluizel Vila Gracinda 67% or substitute a similar chocolate of your choice (or milk or white)
*If possible, purchase raw hazelnuts that have already been skinned. It will not only save you time, but removing the skin from hazelnuts is painstaking work, if your aim is to skin them properly.
Preheat the oven to 180℃.
To mold the gianduja, you can pretty much use anything you like. Good options are baking frames, praline frames, silicon molds, and small aluminium trays. It all depends how deep or shallow you want the finished bar to be. I just used a small aluminium tray this time, measuring 18cm x 11cm. This gave me a fairly shallow bar that was easy to cut for use in another recipe. It’s up to you.
Spread the hazelnuts out on to a lined baking tray and toast in the oven for about eight to ten minutes, until golden. If they are pre-skinned, set aside to cool. If you need to remove the skins, wrap in a clean tea towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible. You can use a sharp paring knife to remove any stubborn bits of skin. Try to remove as much of the papery skin as possible. The skin won’t do any favours to the flavour and texture of the finished gianduja. Keep warm.
Prepare a silpat sheet or sheet of non-stick baking paper on a large tray.
Place the sugar in a stainless steel saucepan over a low to medium heat. Make a dark caramel by stirring the sugar gently to move it around until it is melted. Then just move it gently occasionally until it becomes a dark golden colour throughout. When dark amber, add the warm hazelnuts and stir to coat evenly.
Tip the praline on to the prepared sheet. Let the praline cool and harden. When cool, break into pieces.
Place the praline pieces in the bowl of a food processor and process until it becomes a liquid paste. If you have a wet stone grinder or a Thermomix, this will be easy. If you have a solid, powerful food processor, process for a couple of minutes then stop and let it cool down. Repeat until the praline is liquified and fine in texture.
While the praline is processing, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a plastic bowl. Melt in the microwave in short bursts of 30 seconds and stir until smooth. If you do not have a microwave oven, place in a heatproof bowl over hot water to melt the chocolate completely, until smooth.
Add the hazelnut paste to the chocolate and bring to 40℃. Turn out on to a clean marble or granite surface and pre-crystallise the gianduja, until it reaches a temperature of 27℃. If you are unable to do this, make sure you use a clean plastic bowl and keep stirring the gianduja and giving it plenty of movement in the bowl until it reaches 27℃. Once the gianduja is ready, pour it in to the prepared mold and tap gently on a bench to remove any air bubbles. Cover and let set at around 17℃ – 18℃.
The gianduja has a long shelf life so long as you keep it stored away from heat and light, in an airtight container, preferably not in the refrigerator.
Gianduja Pots de Crème
6 (recipe can be doubled)
200 grams Gianduja (see recipe above)
125 millilitres milk
125 millilitres cream at 35% – 45% fat*
I large egg (59g in the shell)
15 millilitres (1 tablespoon) Frangelico liqueur (optional)
*the proportion of fat in the cream you use will influence how rich the pots will be. I generally use a 35% cream, as I prefer a lighter texture.
The Frangelico is optional but very worthwhile
You can either use a food processor or a stick blender to make these, making them even easier to do. I prefer a food processor but a blender would be fine.
Place the gianduja in the food processor bowl or blender and process until chopped up.
Heat the milk and cream and bring to boiling point. Pour over the gianduja in the bowl and let it sit for twenty to thirty seconds or so. Process briefly to melt the gianduja completely. Add the egg and Frangelico and process briefly until smooth.
Pour into small serving cups or glasses. Cover and chill for about 6 hours or overnight.
Remove from the refrigerator about 15 to 20 minutes before serving. They will be at their best silky lusciousness for serving.