3:17pm

Tue May 31, 2011
Kitchen Window

Nuts For Nutella

My first introduction to Nutella was under unpleasant circumstances. While the incident took place more than 30 years ago, the memory of it remains crystal clear.

I was a curious 7-year-old and loved dissecting things to figure out how they worked. In my zeal, I "dissected" my father's new stereo system. I used a screwdriver and opened the entire system, speakers included. After examining the contents for a bit, I tried to put it back together. My father walked into the living room and glared at me. He opened his mouth to say something, but all I could see was the anger in his eyes. He just stood there shaking his head and began to show me how to fix the system. I watched for a while and then quietly crept away to my room, ashamed and terrified.

My father, who is an engineer, knew how to put the system back together. After the stereo was reassembled, Dad came to my room. He had heard me crying. I was petrified that I was going to be punished. Instead, my father was holding a tiny white plastic container with a mini white spatula. On the cover of the container was a picture of a slice of bread smeared with chocolate. I opened it, dipped the spatula into the mound of stuff, and tasted. The silky, creamy sweet melted instantly on my tongue, its hazelnut flavor filling my mouth with new sensations. Suddenly, all was well with the world again. I had stopped crying and Dad explained that while he was happy with my curious nature, I should wait for him before opening up any other electronic equipment. I grew up to be an engineer, so the curiosity never left me.

Neither did my love for Nutella. (There are many other brands of chocolate-hazelnut spreads, and I have seen recipes to make it at home. But to me, there is only one Nutella.)

After that first taste, a few days each week before school, my mother would hand me some money to buy something for myself. And each time I would buy the same thing: a small container of Nutella with its own plastic spoon. I used to stop by the same store so often that the owner took to calling me "the chocolate girl."

From those childhood days to the present, Nutella has been a great buddy. A buddy that I can turn to when the petunias die, when the school nurse calls to say there is breakout of lice in the school (again), when my book manuscript gets soaked in the pouring rain, when my MAC backup is nowhere to be found. Of course, it is also a buddy through sunshiny days, but I admit that I have a dark side when it comes to Nutella: I hide it from my family, all of whom are Nutella fans. If anyone sees it, I know it will be finished before I can blink.

The French adore Nutella. "It is impossible to overestimate the French love of Nutella, the chocolate and hazelnut spread invented in Italy about 70 years ago and eaten with gusto all over most of Europe," Dorie Greenspan writes in Around My French Table. "If you think about how attached we Americans are to peanut butter, you'll have an idea of how much the French love Nutella. It's a perennial at crepe stands all over the country, sometimes along with bananas. Spread on a slice of bread, it's often the after-school snack of choice."

Nutella, the rich chocolate-hazelnut spread, has many lovers. Facebook fans have even established Feb. 5 as Nutella Day. In fact, I learned to cook with Nutella through social media. For the past 20 years, I had been eating it straight out of the jar. Each time I Tweeted or wrote on Facebook about Nutella, friends would post recipes or ideas about what could be done with it. Some of their suggestions, including some that I make at home, are:

  • Nutella makes a great substitute for jelly in PB&J sandwiches.
  • We freeze grapes and then dip them in warm Nutella for a snack.
  • Sliced bananas, slathered with Nutella and topped with crushed walnuts and raisins, is our family take on "ants on a log."
  • Waffles drizzled with warm Nutella are a match made in heaven.
  • Crepes with warm bananas, honey and Nutella are delightful.
  • My kids occasionally make a pound cake Nutella sandwich: Slather Nutella on pound cake, layer with slices of strawberries, bananas and mint leaves and top with another slice of cake.
  • Nutella brownies: These take only four ingredients to make and are so delicious. (From Abby Dodge via the blog Savory Sweet Life)
  • We melt Nutella in the microwave (just a few seconds) and serve it as a dip with fresh fruit and marshmallows.

I mostly don't really "cook" with Nutella other than to spread it or warm it and drizzle it or layer it with things. I thought I was the only one, but I was happy to learn I was wrong. Baker and writer Dorie Greenspan also loves Nutella.

"The most cooking I've ever done with Nutella is to warm it to drizzle it over the tartine or an ice cream sundae," she told me. "My tip for cooking with Nutella would be to not cook it. I think it's best used just as it is. It makes a great under-layer to a ganache tart or even a tart that's filled with pastry cream and topped with fruit. I like when it's a surprise — when it's hidden and you don't know it's going to be there until you cut into the tart or cake (of course Nutella makes a good filling for a layer cake)."

So, yes, I make some of these recipes, but nothing tastes better than Nutella out of a jar, straight up. I should know. After all, I am the chocolate girl.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.