Do you like Nutella? Oh, good. You’re human.
I can honestly say that, with the exception of people with nut allergies, I have never met a person who dislikes Nutella. Sure, not everyone loses his or her mind over its chocolatey hazelnut goodness, but I can’t think of a single person who has tasted it and said, “Ew.”
I, for one, do go crazy for the stuff, and my boyfriend loves Nutella even more than I do. In fact, when I need a jar of it for baking, I’ve considered hiding it from him. He’s a big boy, but even the mighty Odysseus had trouble resisting the Sirens… And as it turns out, the man responsible for this addictive spread that my boyfriend and I adore may be none other than Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte.
Chocolate hazelnut paste, historically called gianduia and today marketed as Nutella, dates back to the mid-1800s in Piedmont, when chocolate had become a rare commodity in Europe. Napoleon had imposed a continental block in 1806, which made it impossible to import chocolate from South America and made local chocolate extremely expensive. So a man named Michele Prochet came up with the idea to make chocolate go further by adding chopped hazelnuts, grinding the hazelnuts into the cocoa to form a paste. The confection was officially given a name in 1865 at a carnival in Turin, taking the name of Gianduia after a carnival character representing the archetypal Piedmontese.
And, man, something about that combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is completely irresistible. Mr. Prochet, I lust after your creation.
Consequently, I’ve been on a quest to find a dessert that tastes like a big slice of Nutella. With an entire jar of Nutella and almost a cup of hazelnut butter, this Gianduia Mousse Cake nearly does it. The cake is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. But I still want a more pronounced hazelnut flavor, so next time I will probably add some Frangelico to the cake and use hazelnut oil when making the hazelnut butter.
So merci, Monsieur Bonaparte. Without your obstructions, who knows when we would have perfected the chocolate hazelnut confection that makes this dessert possible.
Gianduia Mousse Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, February 1998
9 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate
7 ounces fine-quality milk chocolate
1 cup Nutella (1 13-ounce jar)
3/4 cup unsweetened hazelnut butter (store-bought or homemade — see instructions below)
6 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 cup chilled heavy cream
Heavy duty aluminum foil
To make your own hazelnut butter: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Measure out 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts (about 7 ounces) and spread on a baking sheet. Toast nuts for about 10 minutes, until blistered and fragrant, tossing halfway through. Immediately transfer the nuts from the baking sheet to a clean towel and wrap in the towel, steaming the nuts for about 1 minute. Rub the nuts against each other in the towel to remove the skins (don’t worry if a few skins remain). Transfer the warm, peeled nuts to a food processor and process until you have a fine past, scraping down the sides occasionally. Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil or hazelnut oil and pulse until the oil is incorporated. The hazelnut butter will keep for 1 week, covered and stored in the refrigerator.
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan with butter and wrap the outside of the pan — bottom and sides — with heavy duty foil (you will be placing the pan in a water bath, and this will keep water from seeping in).
Melt the bittersweet and milk chocolates together in a medium bowl (either in the microwave, my choice, or over a double boiler). Stir in the Nutella and hazelnut butter, stirring until evenly combined.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until the mixture is thick and pale and holds a slowly dissolving ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 4 minutes in a stand mixer or 8 minutes with a hand-held mixer. The mixture will look like white cake batter. Gently stir in the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until combined, using a spatula or wooden spoon.
In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Gently fold a spoonful of the whipped cream into the chocolate/egg mixture to lighten. Then gently but thoroughly fold in the rest of the whipped cream.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top, and then place the springform pan in a roasting pan. Fill the roasting with enough hot water to reach halfway up the side of the springform pan. Lift the roasting pan into the oven, and bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for another 40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and lift the springform pan out of the roasting pan. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before removing the sides. Cool completely before serving.
This can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature (my preference) for a more mousse-like cake, or cold for a fudge-like dessert.
Yield: 12-16 servings (it is very rich, so it depends on the size of your slices and the appetite of your guests…)