Hark back to your childhood, and imagine a scene where you're at a party, and someone gives you a container of mixed nuts. Roasted, toasted, salted. Which nuts did you eat first? I always zoomed in on the almonds first, then the peanuts. I left behind the walnuts and hazelnuts and cashews as I wasn't too keen on their particular tastes at the age of 7 or 8.
Maturing, I learned to enjoy the richer flavors of the walnuts (I even spent one christmas season repetitiously slamming my dorm room door in China as we had two pounds of unshelled walnuts to use up in a pesto), and cashews came on board when I found a good source locally. Hazelnuts, however, were a distant third choice of the three for many years. I even avoided chocolate hazelnut combinations, as I still do with chocolate and coconut. Something about the hazelnut aftertaste that didn't sit well with me.
That was until I fell in love with a great and simple product called Nutella. I chanced upon it through a friend of Italian origins who would make us Nutella grilled sandwiches in college. It wasn't available much while I was living in China, but recovered my stride in HK. There are variations on the chocolate/hazelnut spread, but Nutella is the best of the lot as far as I'm concerned. A gourmand friend who imports all sorts of items overseas gave me a taste of homemade nutella from Spain, but it didn't spread as easily as commercial nutella, taste was great though.
I did come across a blog (Su Good Eats) who posted a recipe of homemade nutella. I can't believe that I first read that post close to the end of last year, now that I think about it. It made me crave my own homemade version, and the grandiose ideas I had flowed onward and upward till I could see myself drowning in a vat of chocolate and hazelnut. First, of course, was sourcing the nuts. Locally the choices were a bit limiting. A friend visiting from Los Angeles was willing to bring me some; he even brought more than I had expected. Second, the chocolate. Through all the blogs and some footwork, I found good quality chocolate that would make my homemade spread divine.
But it all came to a halt when my food processor died on me. I tried to get it started again, but the manufacturer explained that the engine wasn't in shape, i.e., I had myself a lemon. Trying to finegrind the nuts, a mere handful for the test batch, proved too much for the inept machine. I postponed my dreams till after I bought a Kitchenaid or Cuisinart food processor in the US in May/June, but after some unforeseen circumstances, I came home empty handed, and my 4 lbs of noisettes lay untouched in my freezer.
In between all this, I had met through the blogworld, ice cream man extraordinaire Ian, of Sebastian's Ice Cream. I've apologized to Ian for the fact that everyone I've spoken to about him now recall him as "the Ice Cream Man!" I can even see the caps when they say it. But he is a lovely human being doing a wonderful service to the local community by making artisinal ice cream. He and his partners are making their customers very happy. And we look forward to bigger, brighter things from their venture. Back to my hazelnuts situation, it was fast approaching a year since I had gotten the nuts and I would look at them sadly, wondering when I'd finally get to make the nutella or do something with them. Then would promptly forget their existence.
Then the perfect opportunity arose: a couple of friends were leaving for a new life abroad, plus one of them was having his birthday at the same time, so I called Ian, and set it in motion. He'd get my hazelnut loot and make us a flavor. Since he had already experimented with Nutella, and had a nutella flavor available, it wasn't too difficult to incorporate the elements together. Initially all I had in mind was adding the roasted and crushed hazelnuts into dark chocolate, but Ian had better things in mind. For the pre-celebration taste test, he laid before me three options: a white hazelnut paste in cream, the dark chocolate with hazelnuts, and then the piece de resistance - nutella ice cream with nutella swirl and loads of crushed hazelnuts. On the first spoonful, I knew, it was inevitable, but the third choice was the one. We had found our gold nugget.
Last Saturday, we launched the hazelnut heaven at our friendly shindig. After the surprise birthday cheers, and celebrating our friends' new lives, we brought forth the ice cream. I had requested that the dark chocolate with hazelnuts be included, so we had two flavors to choose from. I couldn't resist having a choice scoop of the nutella and hazelnut flavor, while the others combined the dark chocolate and the nutella together. What else is there to say? Ice cream makes us happy. But what better than to discover a new twist on a relatively recent favorite.