ner greenhouses and the occasional nearly-naked swim in a possibly polluted creek, I did not exactly have the most time to devote to crafting healthy, filling meals.
And since trying is apparently far beyond my capabilities, I threw health to the wind and instead made the most fattening and delicious concoctions possible. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I ate pancakes and Babycakes for almost every meal for a solid month. But out of all the unhealthy food I ate that summer, one stands above the others in terms of being delicious, artery clogging and possibly inducing sudden religious revelations in all those who eat it—Nutella French toast.
I had just read about Nutella sandwiches and had been eating them fairly consistently as a delicious, if unhealthy, snack for several weeks before I came to the obvious conclusion that I should make them even more fattening by frying them. Thus, Nutella French toast.
My feelings about French toast can border on the absurd. I love it, but I am too picky about it to eat most of it. So, my personal recipe for the egg mix in which I dunk my partially stale bread is something I cannot compromise. Eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and, most importantly, no milk. Adding milk to the mix just gets the bread soggy, and soggy is the last thing one wants when eating delicious breakfast foods stuffed with hazelnutty goodness.
Since I’m one to prefer my French toast on the eggy side, I liberally apply the egg mixture and then toss them in the skillet. What happens next is a borderline spiritual experience. The outside turns crispy and cinnamon-flavored, and the inside turns to runny, hazelnut and chocolate wonder.
The thing that makes Nutella French toast special is that one can eat them like a sandwich. They result in far less mess, and I lovingly refer to them as inside-out French toast when I am feeling particularly affectionate toward my culinary creations.
Experimentation is also, and always, a good idea when it comes to Nutella. I have branched out extensively in my French toast escapades, swapping in challah for multigrain, adding a sliver of peanut butter or slices of strawberries or bananas, putting dollops of honey in my egg mixture, and even making my own Nutella. The options are inexhaustible. Honestly, what doesn’t go well with Nutella?
I recently saw an off-brand sort of so-called chocolate hazelnut spread and a slight shiver ran down my spine—especially so close to World Nutella Day on Feb. 5. The only hazelnut spreads I trust are the ones I’ve made myself, or Nutella. No others will ever meet my impossibly high standards regarding foods that are probably cutting down my life-expectancy as we speak. While hazelnut spreads have long existed in Italy, Nutella’s homeland, the spread took over the world in the sweetest, nuttiest way possible, Nutella became its own entity when cocoa was in short supply during the second World War. Chocolatiers began adding hazelnuts to the mix to extend the supply and, voilà, or, as the Italians would say, ecco, Nutella.
Jarred Nutella is in its own league entirely, but getting a taste of the effort that went into making this chocolatey confection in a more traditional way definitely puts Nutella in an entirely new light.
It all starts with toasting the hazelnuts in the oven until they are browned, removing the skin and grinding them into a paste. Hazelnut paste can be used for a variety of other cooking projects, so making extra can be useful. Mixing in the cocoa, vanilla and oils results in a homemade equivalent that more than holds up against its brand-name counterpart.
Homemade Nutella is more time-consuming and expensive than just picking up a jar of the store-bought stuff, but making it myself definitely lends a more hand-crafted aesthetic to my fattening, artery clogging culinary tendencies. I have to appreciate how people made pretty much anything before the advent of food processors and electric ovens. And I also have to wonder how people lived before Nutella French toast. Honestly, it’s been one of the high points of my life.
2 cups (8 ounces) hazelnuts
1 cup powdered sugar
⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the hazelnuts out on a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until dark brown and fragrant (12 to 15 minutes), rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking until perfectly roasted.
2. Once cooled, place a second bowl upside-down on top of the bowl with the hazelnuts. Shake vigorously to remove the skins of the hazelnuts. Remove the hazelnuts that have lost their skin to the bowl of a food processor, then continue shaking.
3. Process the hazelnuts in a food processor until their oil is released and they form a smooth, loose paste, 2 to 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl often.
4. Add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, hazelnut oil, vanilla extract and salt and process until fully incorporated. Transfer the glossy spread to a jar with a tight-fitting lid or an airtight container. Preserves for up to 1 month.