13 Jan. 2017
Whether nuts or dried fruits, winter fruits certainly bring great energy and nice crunch, flavor and color to desserts and chocolates that we like so much to munch on all through the winter season. With their Florentines, highly addictive chocolate bars and slightly crazy winter breads, their fine selection is fatally attractive.
The proof is with the creations of the Relais Desserts pastry chefs who, with the Holidays barely over, keep on offering us some delicious treats to tease our palate. And for the curious amateur, Benedict Beaugé, writer and historian of contemporary cuisine, enlightens us with the hazelnut, which once roasted, is the cat’s meow of chocolate makers and pastry chefs… and of course ours.
Front page, chocolate with nougatine stuffing bar by the Sève House
HAZELNUTS & CHOCOLATE
By Bénédict Beaugé
The hazelnut is known for its flavor, that famous “taste of hazelnut”… Thank goodness, it is not only an aroma, as elusive as it is, it is also one of our most delicate “nuts”.
The hazelnut has not always been called a hazelnut. In several regions of France, the tree which it comes from is called the “coudrier”. This word comes from the latin corylus, which refers to the species and evokes the little green frayed hat which covers it and gives it its impertinent look. Which encouraged Jean-Luc Hennig to say, in his Literary and Erotic Dictionary of Fruits and Vegetables, that “cloistered under its green hood, it could tempt, they say, only wildlife, squirrels and bad boys.”
Like many other fruits, the hazelnut comes from Asia Minor from where it spread over the entire northern shore of the Mediterranean in prehistoric times. The Romans appreciated the quality of these “Pontic nuts” and imported trees to cultivate them. That is where one of the most common varieties gets its name “avellana” – which, in French, designates the large, slightly elongated variety, the aveline.
If, in France, one finds hazelnut orchards – in Corsica, throughout the southwest, but also in Brittany and the southern part of Dauphiné –, picking them along paths is still popular… particularly in the Massif Central region. In Italy, there are well-known orchards in the Piedmont region which have introduced two hazelnut specialities worldwide: the gianduja… and Nutella®!
Due to its refined flavor, the hazelnut was appreciated in sweets and pastries early on. It has often been used to prepare sweets such as pralines or a nougat. It has also served as a substitute for almonds and is used to prepare pralin or other pastries.
Sold with or without the shell, the hazelnut is used whole or ground, even reduced to powder, in pastries and in cooking. It is particularly good in charcuterie and in terrines. But that is not all: the seed is also known for its oil (very rich, it contains 50 %). The oil, which should not be overheated, has a delicate but strong flavor: the well-known hazelnut flavor. We can find the flavor in butter as well, but that is not the same, nor is the beurre noisette, which makes reference to its color!