Nutella was the peanut butter of my childhood.
I ate the rich, creamy chocolate-hazelnut spread slathered one-inch-thick in between slices of white bread. I scraped it out of matchbox-sized containers with an accompanying plastic spoon (they were sold in snack packs similar to these). And I scooped spoonfuls of chocolatey, hazelnutty goodness into my mouth straight from the jar when my mom wasn’t looking, sheer delight extending from my lips right down to my curled toes.
Yes, I confess I was, and still am a Nutella fanatic.
According to the Nutella Web site, Nutella was created in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, the founder of Italian confectionary company Ferrero. Cocoa/cacao was scarce in post-World War II Europe, so Mr. Ferrero used hazelnuts which were abundant in his native Piedmont, northwest Italy, to extend the chocolate supply. Hence, chocolate-hazelnut gianduja paste was born (you might be familiar with it as a gelato flavor), and eventually Nutella, the spread.
This history enlightens me on two levels. First, I’m happy to understand the provenance of Nutella, an amazing culinary invention that’s right up there with soy sauce in my opinion. I also find it fascinating that this story parallels that of another culturally important culinary breakthrough–banana ketchup. To circumvent a shortage of tomatoes during WWII, a smarty food technologist by the name of Maria Y. Orosa created a copycat of American ketchup using the local bananas that grew prolifically all over the Philippine islands. Banana ketchup still remains popular today.
Second, Singapore, being a former British colony, has always been a hotbed for European imports – Italian Nutella and German 1980s pop duo Modern Talking, (what, you don’t know their hit single “Cheri, Cheri Lady”?) being cases in point–which explains why Nutella was thriving in Singapore (and other Asian countries) long before it was popular in the U.S.
Two decades ago, trying to buy Nutella was a combination of playing treasure hunt and hide-and-seek. First, I had to hunt it down (the ‘X’ that marked the spot was usually either an Asian market or Cost Plus World Market), and then search for it among the heaving shelves (the jars were often hidden in obscure corners), and if I was lucky, there was a jar in stock!
Over the past few years, there’s been a Nutella explosion and now you can buy it at Safeway. “Hooray!” says my Nutella-loving self. Of course, if you’re so inclined, you can make it yourself too. (Try my friend Danielle’s grown-up recipe.)
There’s also been a burst of creativity in kitchens everywhere resulting in Nutella recipes on the net from Nutella brownies, to Nutella cookies, and my personal favorite, Nutella microwave mug cake. Practically any recipe that involves chocolate could do with a little Nutella magic.
And then I found this, a Nutella cheesecake recipe by the ever-trendy Nigella Lawson. This, this is the stuff that Nutella dreams are made of. It’s fairly easy to make, and even better, it’s no-bake! So it’s definitely a recipe I keep in my back pocket.
That being said, on the days I crave a pure, decadent, luscious shot of Nutella – or nostalgia – you can still find me with my spoon, digging deep into Nutella’s signature glass jar, complete with toes curled.
Nutella Cheesecake à la Nigella
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
I made a few subtle changes to Nigella’s recipe. I used French-inspired Neufchâtel cheese because I’m fancy like that. The truth is, unlike its French Normandien counterpart, the American-made Neufchâtel cheese you find in your supermarket is lower in fat than cream cheese and made from pasteurized, not raw, cow’s milk. I also skipped the hazelnuts. If you’re feeling lazy like I sometimes do, just buy your favorite ready-bought 9-inch crust and skip the food processor.
10 ounces graham crackers (I used Marie biscuits, you should have about 2 cups of crumbs)
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
13-ounce jar Nutella, at room temperature
2 (8-ounce) boxes Neufchâtel, cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1. To make the crust, break the crackers into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse with the butter and 1 tablespoon Nutella until the mixture is grainy and clumps together like damp sand. For a gadget-free (I hope a rolling pin qualifies) version, follow my instructions for Calamansi No-Bake Cloud Pie crust.
2. Using your hands, dump the mixture into a greased 9-inch round springform pan and press to form a crust. Chill in the fridge. If you don’t have a springform, line a pie plate with parchment like I did.
3. Stir and beat the cheese and sugar together until smooth. Add the rest of the Nutella (yes, all of it!) and stir and beat until there’s no more white to be seen. I did this by hand but use a hand mixer on low if you prefer.4. Take the crust out of the fridge and smooth the Nutella mixture over the crust with a spatula. Chill at least four hours. Dip your knife in water before cutting and serve straight from the fridge for best results.
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