by Claire Lassam | My love affair with hazelnuts started when I was very young. I don’t remember having them around the house, and as an Ontario girl, I don’t remember them growing around where I lived. What I do remember is Nutella.
I vividly recall the first time I ate it. It was a big spoonful shoved into my mouth by my Dad to make me shut up in the back of our car after a early morning run to Little Italy. I remember the chocolate, the instant rush of sugar, but mostly I remember the taste of hazelnuts. Now, despite 56 roasted hazelnuts per jar and a whole cup of skim milk, I can’t keep Nutella in my house. I’m far too addicted to the stuff to keep it anywhere near, so I get my fix in smaller doses elsewhere.
You can’t even imagine my happiness when I moved here a few years back and found that not only were there beaches and mountains, but also hazelnuts! Consider me sold, Vancouver. Now, Nutella has been produced since 1963 (and a slight variation from Ferrero was produced beginning in 1944), which seems like a long time, but when you consider that archeologists have found traces of hazelnuts in Scotland that date back 9000 years, well, half a century seems only a blink of an eye.
Hazelnuts were grown in Ancient Rome; they were given to the sailors and explorers of England because of their long shelf-life; fhey have been flavouring liqueurs in Italy for over 300 years; and more recently, they’ve been used as food for Oregonian hogs to make some of the best prosciutto to ever come out of North America. BC makes up a very small part of the hazelnut trade. They’re mostly grown in Agassiz, where we only produce about 330,000 kilos a year. In contrast, Turkey cleans up with 625,000 tonnes a year, which is about 75% of the global market.
Those grown here are still the best I’ve ever eaten. They’re often thinner then commercial filberts; slightly longer with a crunchier texture and a stronger, more pronounced flavour. And they just so happen to be in season right now.
At home, I often pulse them with basil and lemon zest in my food processor and pour the resulting pesto on everything from pork roast to pasta, or I grind them up and put them in cakes or macarons. If you feel like having someone else do the work for you, get into West on South Granville for hazelnut spaetzle with pork, or get the duck breast at Boneta, which is served with brussel sprouts and local hazels. One of my new favourite chocolatiers, Beta5, caramelizes them and enrobes them in Michel Cluizel chocolate, and those things are pretty close to heaven my books. And of course there’s the masterful Thierry Busset, who uses hazelnuts over and over again in his Alberni St. store. You can snag some in his financiers, tuiles and sable cookies, and in his macarons as well. And if you can’t get enough, you can make them at home now, because he has very kindly given us a recipe…
3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened cut into small cubes
7/8 cup icing sugar
1 3/4 tsp salt 8 mL 2 cups whole blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (or other spice 5 mL of your choice)
Place the butter cubes, salt and sliced hazelnuts in a bowl. Using a sieve, add in the flour and icing sugar. Work in the butter cubes, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until a dough forms. On a clean, floured surface, roll the dough into the shape of a cylinder. Divide the dough into four equal pieces and tightly wrap the pieces of dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours until chilled, or overnight if possible. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Once the dough is chilled, remove the dough from the fridge and place on a lightly floured, clean work surface. Slice the dough into pieces that are between ¼ and ½ inch thick. Using a brush, slightly wet the slices with water. Place the slices on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl until well incorporated. Sift the cinnamon–sugar mixture onto the slices. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°f/175°c. Bake the sablés for five minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.
Claire Lassam is a baker, blogger, and freelance writer based in East Van. She has been cooking and baking her way through the city for nearly five years, working in restaurants ranging from Cioppino’s to Meat & Bread. She currently toils at the soon-to-open Cadeaux Bakery in Railtown and runs the baking blog Just Something Pretty.