Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Squares

Last week, my girlfriends and I got together to eat, chit-chat and do some crafty things.   Pam was bringing lunch and a craft idea, so I took the opportunity to comb through my cookbooks to find a dessert to make.  I often make the same tried-and-true cookies and cakes for my customers, so I'm excited when I get to try a new recipe and have the girls taste test it.  As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it, and I'm glad I did!  It's my favorite combination of hazelnuts and rich dark chocolate - even better than a scoop of Nutella!  The girls loved it and that makes me happy!

The recipe is a little involved - you have to chop chocolate, and toast nuts, and make a caramel for the praline paste, and dirty more than a few dishes.  This recipe is worth it though, I promise.

Regarding the praline paste needed for this recipe: I ran into a snag while making the praline paste from the book (although you'd never know it in the final product), so below I provided a similar recipe with a different technique that I think will work better.  Just be warned that the praline paste is so delicious all by itself you may want to eat it by the spoonful.

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Squares
adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle
Makes 16 bars

hazelnut brownie layer:
1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix- I used Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

hazelnut truffle layer:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup praline paste (store-bought or recipe follows)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks

confectioner's sugar for dusting
16 hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place about 3/4 cup hazelnuts on a baking sheet (add 1 cup hazelnuts and 1 cup blanched almonds to the baking sheet if making the praline paste recipe) and bake in the oven until fragrant and toasted, about 10 minutes.  Rub the hazelnuts inside a clean towel to remove as much of the skins as possible.  Reserve 16 of the barest, nicest looking hazelnuts to use as garnish.  Divide the remaining as follows: 1/2 cup hazelnuts for brownie layer and 1 cup hazelnuts and 1 cup almonds for praline paste, if making.

Make the hazelnut brownie layer:
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.  Spray a 9x9-inch pan with cooking spray (or coat with softened butter).  Line the pan with parchment, allowing the excess to hang over two sides, then spray or butter the parchment.  Coarsely chop the 1/2 cup reserved toasted hazelnuts.  Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat while stirring until melted and smooth.  Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and the hazelnut liqueur until blended.  Add the egg and stir vigorously until well blended.  Fold in the flour and hazelnuts just until the flour is incorporated.  Spread the brownie base evenly into the prepared pan.

Make the truffle layer:
Place chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat while stirring until melted and smooth.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the praline paste.  Whisk in the sugar, salt, heavy cream, and vanilla.  Whisk in the egg and egg yolks, one at a time, blending well after each addition.  Scrape the mixture over the brownie layer and spread it evenly.

Bake the bars for 25-30 minutes until the top is puffed and set and no longer shiny.  Cool the bars completely on a wire rack, then chill for at least 2 hours.

Cut the bars into squares using a sharp chef's knife.  For clean cuts you can run the knife under hot water, then dry the knife and make your cut, cleaning off the knife between cuts.  Dust the bars with confectioner's sugar and press a toasted hazelnut into the top of each bar.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Praline Paste
Adapted from Joe Pastry

8 ounces (1 cup plus two tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 ounces (1/4 cup) water
4 ounces (1 cup) blanched almonds (113 grams)
4 ounces (1 cup) hazelnuts toasted and peeled

Place the nuts on a sheet of lightly greased parchment paper or a silpat. Then simply add the water to the sugar in a small saucepan and heat it over high heat, swirling until the mixture turns to caramel. Dark amber is usually the degree most pastry makers cook to, though you can go darker for a stronger flavor. Pour the caramel over the nuts and allow the mixture to cool completely. Then break the praline into pieces and grind them as finely as you can in a food processor until a paste forms. 


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