Celebrating 100 with Homemade Nutella Sponge Roll
The 100th blog post. A relatively small milestone in the hundreds of other milestones that I hope to one day reach in my life, but one that should be celebrated with something a little bit more special than usual. I had in mind a cake – after all, what is any celebration without a cake? So I consulted Marco, who must be the only person on the planet who doesn’t like sweets. If I’m going to celebrate, I want him to join in too – he is the reason that many of the recipes on this blog even exist. He’s my baker. My fresh pasta maker. My sommelier. He’s the offal lover. But he’s not the dessert eater.
There is, however, just one sweet thing that he absolutely cannot resist. He sneaks spoonfuls of it late at night, leaving for me to discover a chocolatey teaspoon sitting suspiciously in the sink the next morning, until an empty jar, not long after, appears in its place. The truth is, he can go through a jar of Nutella so fast that it’s hard to keep up. At one point, we discovered the Nocciolata by Rigoni di Asiago, a brand from northern Italy that make the most seriously delicious organic jams and spreads. Their Nocciolata is a slightly more rustic version of Nutella and once you’ve had it, it’s very, very hard to go back to eating Nutella, which tastes only of sugar and chemicals in comparison (hard to imagine, but it’s true). But the Rigoni di Asiago Nocciolata also costs $10 a jar here in Melbourne*, which is hard to justify when you have someone in the house who goes through it as quickly as he does. So we decided we need to make our own Nutella/Nocciolata at home.
We tried many, many recipes, looking for the perfect one, one that was nutty, creamy, not too sweet, not too chocolatey and that had simple, everyday ingredients so that it could easily be made with things straight out of the cupboard. We tried one that used just cocoa powder, no chocolate, and some olive oil. There was one with dark chocolate, no oil. Another with milk, dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Another that strained it for a smoother finish.
In the end, I found this one by Marte Marie Forsberg’s Le Voyage Creatif blog a very good start (and I love her photos) but it came out dry like breadcrumbs. I really think it all comes down to the quality of your hazelnuts, people – get some good ones! We then adjusted it to our tastes – less hazelnuts, milk chocolate (dark chocolate was good but tasted too strongly of dark chocolate) and a little more of it and just a bit of warm milk to bring it all together and give it a bit of creaminess. And I think that’s what homemade Nocciolata, or anything homemade for that matter, should be about – it should be exactly how you like it to be. Here’s a little video that shows how easy it is to make your own Nocciolata or Nutella at home.
Now this is where the cake comes in. When I asked Marco what cake I could make that he would eat, there was only one. It comes from the beachside town where Marco’s grandparents owned a little flat, a small section of the Etruscan coast known as Cecina. It’s a very old fashioned little strip of esplanade that faces the sea and looks directly out to Corsica and a handful of Tuscan islands. There, and only there and its surrounds, can you find this particular cake in the supermarket delis or bakeries. It’s known in Cecina as tronco, which means ‘tree trunk’: a simple rolled sponge, painted with Alchermes and filled with Nutella. Humble and old fashioned, a bit like the town itself.
Alchermes is probably one of the most retro, old fashioned liqueurs you can find. It’s a scarlet-tinged alcohol that dates back to the Renaissance and is almost exclusively used for staining desserts the same vivid pink colour, like Tuscany’s famous zuccotto, for example. The best version is one that you can find in the Pharmacy of Florence’s Santa Maria Novella church. There, it has been made for centuries by the monks and was once touted as a long life elixir, used to cure palpitations of the heart and measles and was said to revive “weary spirits”. It was traditionally flavoured with spices like cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg but before you start imagining it to smell like Christmas cookies, it actually tends to have a very strong balsamic and medicinal character. Then, you may ask, where did the colour come from? In original recipes for the liqueur, it was made scarlet by the addition of a parasitic insect, Kermes, hence the name. Now, it’s like everything else, made with chemical colouring, which is not my favourite thing, but for something nostalgic I’ll let it slide.
The sponge recipe is one of my favourite recipes – so simple and so effective, easy to remember and so easy to make. If you want a gluten free version, have a look at Artusi’s Torta Margherita recipe – this 120 year old recipe uses just three ingredients to produce a similar, fluffy, light cake that would be a perfect substitute for sponge.
Now, time for a celebration and a little slice of cake, perhaps while I reminisce about my first blog post and what I was thinking this little blog might become at the time. I recently found out that both sponge cake and Nutella were not so bad on the GI scale – so even with gestational diabetes, I think I can afford just a little indulgence.
Sponge roll with homemade Nocciolata
For the Nocciolata:
- 150 gr of hazelnuts, shells and skins removed
- 100 gr of milk chocolate
- About 50 ml of warm milk
- 2 tbs cocoa powder
- 2 tbs icing/powdered sugar
For the Sponge:
- 5 eggs
- 100 gr flour
- 100 gr fine/caster sugar
To assemble the roll:
- Some extra caster sugar
To make the Nocciolata: Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor (or if you’re more romantic or want a chunkier style, in a mortar and pestle!) until it looks like fine sand. Add the cocoa powder and icing sugar and continue blending. As you blend, the oil from the hazelnuts should begin creating a paste. Melt the milk chocolate over a bain marie, then add to the food processor to combine. Finally, add the warm milk, just a small amount at a time or as much as you need to reach a spoonable, creamy consistency and depending on the quality of your ingredients. Transfer to a jar and if not using right away, store it in the fridge.
To make the sponge: The key is in whisking the eggs. The longer you whisk them, the fluffier and lighter your sponge will be. Separate the yolks from the whites and place in two clean metal or glass mixing bowls. Whisk the egg yolks with an electric mixer or electric egg beaters for up to ten minutes, or until the yolks become very pale and fantastically creamy. Add the sugar and whisk to combine. Clean the beaters very well, then whisk the whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in small amounts of the whites and the flour, alternately, to the yolks until just combined.
Pour into a baking tray prepared with baking paper (the sponge should be at most 2cm tall, a little less than an inch) and bake at 150ºC for about 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden and firm to the touch.
Remove the sponge from the oven and let it cool ever so slightly so you can handle it easily – you still want to work with it while it is warm. Gently turn upside down onto a sheet of plastic wrap scattered evenly with caster sugar (this helps to stop that lovely golden top from sticking to the plastic). Remove the baking paper to reveal a lovely, spongey soft cake and with a pastry brush, stain this side of the sponge evenly with Alchermes, then generously spread your homemade Nutella over the top (this is best done with Nutella at room temperature; you can even warm it a little if it helps to spread it easily).
Taking the short end of the sponge, carefully roll the entire thing up tightly and secure with the plastic wrap. Keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or even overnight before removing the plastic wrap carefully, cutting into thick slices and serving. If you like, sprinkle the top with some icing sugar before slicing (especially handy if you have found the top has stuck to the plastic).
*Where to find some of these ingredients in Melbourne:
Nocciolata by Rigoni di Asiago can be found at Enoteca Sileno on Lygon Street.
Alchermes by Maurizio Russo can be found at Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Road.