If there is any person in the United States who understands how much Americans – or really, people all over the world – love Nutella, it is Allison Robicelli, who along with her husband, Matt, owns the New York bakery Robicelli’s.
Allison Robicelli created Nutelasagna, the Nutella dessert heard round the world. It was a dish they made as a joke last summer and brought back for the holidays, when the craziness ensued. Lines formed at 8 a.m. Pans and slices sold out quickly. Stories appeared in New York, Great Britain, the Balkans, even Italy – the home of the company that makes the beloved chocolate hazelnut spread. Recently, the Ferrero company president traveled to Brooklyn to meet the Robicellis.
“The president says it became a media phenomenon,” Allison Robicelli said last week during a phone interview. She added: “I’m a god in Italy.”
The chocolate-hazelnut spread was a popular snack food in Europe and elsewhere before being exported to the United States 25 years ago. Our love affair with this sweet treat has only grown. Case in point: Jif introduced its own version three years ago.
Pastry chef Jossie Perlmutter, at the Charlotte, N.C., fine dining restaurant The Asbury, realized the power of Nutella several years ago when she added a Nutella cupcake to a restaurant menu. (The Asbury’s menu at present features a chocolate, hazelnut and mango dessert.)
“Anytime I combined chocolate and hazelnuts, people just went nuts,” Perlmutter said. “Those were the highest-selling desserts.”
The inspiration for Nutelasagna was Allison Robicelli’s frustration with the media declaring every dessert as “the new cupcake.” So she and her staff decided to hold an eight-week “Jump the Shark” summer when they would promote other desserts as the “new cupcake,” such as green Jell-o, Norwegian waffles and noodle kugel. The last one inspired Nutelasagna. Her version combines layers of fresh lasagna noodles, cannoli cream, toasted hazelnuts, Nutella ganache and homemade marshmallows.
The best thing about making Nutelasagna is you can make it your own. Like the savory version, Robicelli says, “There’s not many hard rules with lasagna.”
So why does Robicelli think we are so fascinated by this chocolate-hazelnut treat? She says: “It’s peanut butter for grown-ups.”
Homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread
Makes 2 cups
Cookbook author Alice Medrich has a great tip for removing hazelnut skins. Bring a pot full of water to a boil, add 3 tablespoons baking soda and then 1 cup hazelnuts. Let simmer for 3 minutes.
Drain water. Place hazelnuts in an ice bath. Rub nuts together to remove skins. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. Remove from oven and let cool.
Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria.
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1 cup peeled, toasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil, such as canola
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
Place chocolate in a small glass or metal bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water to melt, or melt in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Let cool completely.
Grind hazelnuts in a food processor until they form a paste. Add oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt. Continue processing until the mixture is as smooth as possible or as smooth as you like. Add melted chocolate, blend well. If you like a smoother spread, strain the mixture using a fine mesh strainer or sieve to remove any chucks of hazelnuts that remain.
Scrape spread into a jar or other resealable container and let it cool to room temperature. The spread will keep for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 6 to 8 scones
From “Baked Explorations,” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95, 208 pages).
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Nutella, divided
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large bowl, until combined.
Add butter. Use fingertips or a biscuit cutter to rub it into the flour until the butter is pea size and mixture is coarse.
Whisk together egg and cream in a separate bowl. Slowly pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together. Gently and briefly knead dough with your hands. Add toasted hazelnuts and knead gently to incorporate. Flatten the dough into a rectangle approximately 6 by 12 inches (it does not need to be precise) and spread 1/4 cup Nutella on top in a crisscross pattern. Roll the dough up to make a cylinder about 6 inches long, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 13/4 inches high. Do not overwork the dough.
Cut dough into 6 or 8 wedges and place them on a prepared baking sheet. Bake scones for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Do not overbake.
Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool completely. Place the baking sheet with parchment still on it underneath the rack.
Heat 1/4 cup Nutella in a microwave until pourable, about 10 seconds on high. Pierce the tops of the scones a few times with a fork.
Use a spoon to drip the warm Nutella in a zigzag pattern over the tops of the hot scones. Transfer them to a refrigerator to set for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.
This version is adapted from Alison Robicelli of Robicelli’s bakery in Brooklyn, N.Y. If you have the time and feel inspired to make a more authentic version of Robicelli’s, use homemade lasagna noodles and marshmallows. To see a video on how to make marshmallows, go to therecipe.nandoweb.net/how-to-cook.
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
1 box lasagna noodles
2 cups toasted hazelnuts
2 16-ounce containers ricotta cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
11/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup Nutella
One 10-ounce bag of marshmallows
Melt 11/2 sticks butter in a small skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the fat solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty. Watch carefully so it does not burn. Set aside.
Cook pasta, per package directions. Once cooked and drained, return to pot and toss with browned butter.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat and then add hazelnuts. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle with sea salt. Place in bowl. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine ricotta cheese and powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Whip 3/4 cup heavy cream until fairly stiff in a bowl with handheld mixer or in the bowl of a standing mixer. Fold whipped cream into ricotta. Set aside.
Make Nutella ganache: Bring 1/2 cup heavy cream in a small pot to a simmer over medium heat. Pour over Nutella in a small bowl and stir to fully incorporate. Set aside.
Assemble lasagna in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. Start with a bottom layer of noodles, spread thin layer of ricotta, sprinkle with hazelnuts and drizzle with Nutella ganache. Repeat until down to last three noodles. Top with a layer of noodles. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and let bake for another 15 minutes.
Remove lasagna from oven. Top with marshmallows evenly across the lasagna. Either use a crème brûlée kitchen torch to brown the marshmallows or broil in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Either way, watch carefully so the marshmallows do not burn. Sprinkle with remaining hazelnuts and drizzle with ganache. Serve warm or cold.