Hazelnut & Cocoa Truffles with Piment d'Espelette

Mistakes happen and we get over them soon enough.  BUT.  Sometimes, mistakes are stepping stones for learning.  Have we heard that too often?  And that is precisely how my life is inside the kitchen.  I take trial and error cooking episodes as ways to build a stronger foundation for my cooking because that is the time when I extract the cause of the problem and ruminate about the whole thing.  What did I do wrong after I followed the recipe letter by letter?  I think I have complained about these redundant episodes in my kitchen more than enough.  You see those brown beauties piled up together?  They were supposed to come out as hazelnut & cocoa cream, a homemade version of Nutella. They happen when you leave the mixture too long at the blender.  But I wouldn't have enjoyed them if not for my mistake.

I am currently hiding two jars of Nutella at the back of my cupboard from my daughter.  She is on an eating phase of Nutella or nothing and is ingesting a worrisome amount of sugar. 

My older son and husband eat Nutella with moderation, sometimes once in two weeks and the most frequent would have to be once a week.  Between father and son, I am not worried about their sugar intake.  After all, we need to indulge on deliciousness once in a while.  The Nutella lover in me is dormant and sleeping too heavily.  It's just too sweet for me.

My husband and I had been checking out other alternatives for Nutella.  It is an Italian icon argues my husband, but for me, it ends there.  It cannot be taken daily seeing that its sugar content is 56% while the hazelnut content is only 13%.  These kinds of percentages of ingredients astound me.  It should be called sugar cream with hazelnuts instead. 

We found an alternative of hazelnut cream with 47% sugar and 16% hazelnuts.  There's not much difference with Nutella but it's lower in sugar and is more acceptable as a transitory brand while we look for a better one. My daughter still thinks it's Nutella though.  The jar is finishing and I thought of introducing a new hazelnut cream - mine, adapted from Il Cucchiaino d'Argento Vol. 2, (The Silver Teaspoon) a cookbook of recipes for children.  Unfortunately, I left it in the blender too long and it became too compact.  It was hardly spreadable.  The taste was intensely hazelnut-ty though and I used only cocoa powder and a small amount of honey.  Ingredient wise, it's far healthier than any hazelnut cream I saw in Orsococa's comparison of hazelnut & chocolate cream Italian brands (text in Italian).  

I revived the useless compact ball of hazelnut cream by making small balls and rolling them on sweetened cocoa powder and sprinkling them with piment d'Espelette (Espelette pepper).  This pepper powder should be hard to find outside Europe.  It's from France and it's already hard for me to find it in Italy.  The taste is just a tad hotter than paprika so if you cannot find piment d'Espelette, try replacing with mild paprika.  I use paprika frequently but when I tried piment d'Espelette, I got hooked.  Paprika is milder and tastier but piment d'Espelette has the spiciness that I am looking for in cooking. 

I couldn't stop popping these truffles in my mouth.  I truly enjoyed them...alone!  My husband thought the hazelnut flavor was too intense and well, I didn't want to introduce it to my kids in its imperfect state.  I'm going to make the hazelnut cream again in another way adding more ingredients to aid in its spreadability.  Meantime, let me share with you this wonderful discovery.  Maybe you will share my opinion too.  

Buon appetito!

Hazelnut & Cocoa Truffles with Piment d'Espelette

Makes around 25 small truffles or 20 bigger ones
  • 150 g. hazelnuts, shelled (or you can also buy hazelnuts that have already been toasted)
  • 4 tablespoons acacia honey (or similarly light honey)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder of good quality
  • sweetened cocoa powder of good quality for coating
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) piment d'Espelette (can be substituted with mild paprika)
  1. If you are still toasting the shelled hazelnuts, scatter them in a baking pan and bake in a pre-heated oven of 150 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes.
  2. Let them cool down.  Rub them in between your palms to remove the brown skin.
  3. Grind them to a powdery consistency using a strong mini-mixer or a coffee grinder.
  4. Transfer to a blender.  Add cocoa powder and honey (adjust amount of honey if you want it sweeter).  Run until smooth.  Stop here if you want to make the cream spreadable.  If you want to make the truffles, continue blending until you see that it is becoming a compact ball.  Don't make it run too much because it might end up too hard. 
  5. Make little balls then roll them on the sweetened cocoa powder until completely coated.
  6. Sprinkle with piment d'Espelette