Saturday, January 22, 2011

chocolate-peanut spread

peanutella

People, I’m no good. I’m terrible news, a bad influence and possibly everything that your nutritionists, cardiologists and mamas warn you about. There I was, like most people with a pulse, enjoying the heck out of some Nutella on a slice of bread at my in-laws last weekend and I thought, you know what would make this even better? Peanut butter. I mean, is there any question that the combination of peanut butter and chocolate is at the very center of American hearts, gullets and junk food aisles? And then I thought, But it’s January. You’re getting in a bathing suit in a month. This is terrible idea. But then I reasoned, Well, it’s not like I have to eat more than a spoonful. Surely, it’s possible so exercise some self-control around chocolate and peanuts. Guys, I’m really funny sometimes, aren’t I?

puny peanuts
toasted again

So I started looking at recipes for homemade Nutella — pardon me, the non-trademark-protected gianduja paste — which is the smooth and shiny combination of hazelnuts and cocoa loved all over the world. I was surprised to find approaches, as well, all over the map. Some used honey, some began with a caramel but two techniques in particular caught my eye: one in which ground nuts were mixed with just cocoa, sugar and oil, quite close to the ingredient list of jarred Nutella and a very simple one from Martha Stewart, which relied on sweetened condensed milk for its body. I decided to make the Martha version second, but never got there because my mother (who was hanging out for the afternoon) and I never got our spoons out of the food processor bowl from the first batch long enough to even consider if it was less than perfect.

grinding

powdered sugar + cocoa
mom helps me pour

Needless to say, I’m recommending the first method, which is to roast peanuts (or toast them further, if they’re already roasted) and then liquefy in them in a food processor. Yes, liquefy; that word came up in a few recipes I thought these writers were taking literary license. Sure enough, if you keep grinding beyond the paste that you’re usually trying to avoid when cooking with ground nuts, eventually, it becomes a puddle and peanuts, with their high oil content, even more so. It was sloshing and splashing up the sides of the food processor before I added cocoa, powdered sugar and salt and some oil to smooth it out and lo and behold: peanutella. I don’t need to tell you what happened next, do I?

this is dangerous
and then this happened

One year ago: Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter and Ricotta Muffins
Two years ago: Mushroom Bouguignon and Smashed Chickpea Salad
Three years ago: Fried Chicken
Four years ago: Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

Chocolate-Peanut Spread ["Peanutella"]
Adapted from a bunch of sources, but closest to this from the LA Times

To say what is probably obvious, peanut qualities range. Cocoa qualities range. Salt preferences range. Flavor preferences range. This is an easily tweaked recipe. I ended up using a bit more sugar than I’d expected, and more oil (as in, I’d expected not to need as much as usually suggested due to the high fat content in peanuts but still used three tablespoons). I wanted more salt and wished I’d found better peanuts to start with, but you know, a balmy high of 20 degrees this weekend doesn’t exactly motivate one to hunt down the best ingredients. I can assure you that this is no less loved, despite it’s average peanut base, and no more likely to only be eaten in the moderate spoonfuls promised. Oops.

Probably makes 1 3/4 cups, but it was down to a scant 1 1/2 cups before I bothered to gauge the volume

2 cups shelled and skinned raw peanuts
1/2 cup of your darkest, richest unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt plus additional to taste (I used an extra 1/8 teaspoon)
3 tablespoons peanut oil

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the peanuts evenly over a cookie sheet and roast until they darken, about 10 minutes, rattling them around a bit halfway through to they toast evenly. (If you, like me, were unable to find raw peanuts, just toast them for a 5 minutes to deepen their flavor.)

Transfer the peanuts to a food processor and grind them for about 5 minutes. First they’ll become a paste and will cause any toddler in your midst to have a meltdown from the ruckus. Then they’ll become more of a paste and finally, they’ll liquefy. Scrape down the sides as needed.

Add the cocoa, sugar, salt and two tablespoons of the oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. Add more salt if needed. Add the last tablespoon of oil if the consistency seems too thick.

Store in refrigerator up to a week in a covered container. When it is full chilled, like peanut butter, it will become thick and swipe with a teaspoon will leave a telltale impression. Look, I’m just warning you, okay?


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