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How Napoleon brought us Nutella (And a recipe for making that goodness at home)

October 04, 2016 0 Comments

Homemade Nutella Recipe

Until I began digging around for a recipe for homemade Nutella, the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread that’s taken America by storm, I had no idea just how interesting its history was.

The story begins in Piedmont in northwestern Italy during the Napoleonic Wars. Sidled up against the Alps, Piedmont is known for its centuries-old love affair with chocolate—and for its chocolate producers’ expertise. (It is said Swiss chocolate makers came to the region’s capital, Turin, to learn their trade.)


This love affair flourished from the late 16th century until 1806, when it was stymied by Napoléon’s “Continental blockade,” which ordered France’s allies to cease trade with the Brits. Napoléon’s intent was to paralyze the British economy; instead, the embargo backfired, causing France and its allies to suffer from a steep reduction in trade. One of the blockade’s ramifications was a sudden and extreme shortage of cocoa. This left the Piedmontese scrambling. As it happens, the world’s most prized hazelnuts grow prolifically in the hills of southern Piedmont. We’re not sure who discovered that, when roasted and ground with chocolate, the nuts would not only help stretch a scarce resource, they would compliment it deliciously.

 roasting nuts

Fast forward to 1946 when a pastry maker named Pietro Ferrero responded to yet another shortage of cocoa—this time caused by WWII rationing—by creating a spreadable blend of ground hazelnuts, sugar and a bit of that precious chocolate. Ferrero shaped this product, which he called “Giandujot,” into a loaf that could be sliced and served on bread. With time, under the Ferrero Company’s ownership, “Giandujot” became “Supercrema.” Pietro’s son, Michele, tinkered with that recipe and in 1964 he released a spreadable chocolate he called “Nutella.” Today, the Ferrero family still owns the company (almost an astounding feat these days when Nestlé owns nearly everything else).

Why make homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread? First of all, it’s fun. Second, the results are delicious. And then there’s a third reason: have you ever looked at the ingredients in a jar of Nutella? They’re not bad. I mean, it’s not as if we’re eating this stuff in quantity, but the first ingredient isn’t hazelnuts or even chocolate. It’s palm oil. The next is sugar. And then, the Nutella we buy in the States is made in Mexico. But I digress…

Most of the homemade Nutella recipes I found use hazelnut oil rather than the nuts themselves. I wanted to find the closest approximation of the traditional Piedmontese concoction, so I looked to one of my favorite cookbook authors and bloggers, David Lebovitz. David’s written seven cookbooks, five of them focused on dessert, one of them called The Great Book of Chocolate. For that reason, he’s my go-to when I’m looking for dessert recipes, especially desserts made with chocolate. Born in the States, David’s lived in Paris since 1999. He adapted this recipe from the Encyclopédie du chocolat, un ouvrage essential, according to the reviews on Amazon (which means, Google Translate tells me, “an essential book”).

The truth is, I would like this recipe to be a bit more chocolatey. And that can be accomplished easily by adding more bittersweet chocolate, or throwing in a handful of roasted ground cocoa nibs. That said, this opinion didn’t keep me from eating 2/3rds of the contents of one of the jars I made…in less than two days. It’s delicious, especially on a warm slice of good bread.

 nutella bread

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (with thanks to David Leibovitz and Encyclopédie du chocolat)


1/3 cup whole almonds

1 1/3 cup hazelnuts

1 3/4 cup whole milk

7/8 cup powdered whole milk

3 tablespoons mild-flavored honey

pinch of salt

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used high-quality milk chocolate chips)


Earlywood Ingredients

1 tera scraper

1 l flat sauté

1 large spreader

1 toddler spoon



  1. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet, keeping the almonds separate, and toast them in a 350ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the hazelnuts are browned. Use your l flat sauté to stir them once or twice while they’re roasting.
  2. While they’re roasting, warm the whole milk and powdered milk in a small saucepan with the honey and salt until it starts to boil. Using your tera scraper, stir frequently. Remove from heat.
  3. In a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, or in a microwave oven, melt the chocolates together until smooth. Again, the tera scraper works well to combine the chocolates.
  4. Once the nuts are well-toasted, remove them from oven. Place the warm hazelnuts in a clean tea towel, then fold them inside the towel and rub them vigorously to remove any loose skins. They don’t need to be pristine; just try to get as much off as possible.
  5. In a food processor*, grind the warm hazelnuts and almonds until they’re as fine as possible. You may not be able to get them completely smooth, depending on your food processor.
  6. Add the melted chocolate and continue to process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl, as necessary.
  7. Once the mixture is smooth, add the warm milk mixture and process until everything is well-combined.
  8. Using your l flat sauté, transfer the mixture into two jars and refrigerate until firmed up and ready to use.
  9. Using your favorite Earlywood spreader, spread a bit of homemade Nutella on a crusty piece of warm bread. Or, using your favorite "toddler" spoon (they're not just for toddlers, you know), eat it by the spoonful. Mmmmm.

 *My food processor broke a few months back. Since then, I’ve been using my Ninja in place of a food processor and the Ninja works just fine. The only possible challenge—getting the chocolate-hazelnut mixture out of the bottom and sides of the vessel—was easily remedied by my Earlywood l flat sauté, which retrieved every last bit.


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