Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homemade Dairy Free "Nutella"

Nutella has been a favorite of mine ever since I first tasted its deliciousness in a crepe with strawberries from a street truck in Paris. I was 16 and I was hooked. If I was stuck on an island and I could bring a life time supply of one meal, this would be it. It was always a treat though never a routine part of my life.

My son is a very picky eater. He is a visual eater too so if an apple is cut the wrong way he won't touch it, and forget about trying new things. Sitting next to Veronica - a tiny bird of a person who eats twice her weight and trys anything given to her; Franklin refused sandwiches, pizza, chicken, everything... Most was in opposition to his sister I'm sure or some power struggle that still rears it's ugly head. It made making meals a chore to say the least. He ultimately gets bored of the few items he eats and then refuses to eat at all. And then we start the process over of finding a few things he will rotate. Around this time, I started seeing commercials 'for a "healthy breakfast" serve Nutella on whole wheat with a glass of milk and fresh cut fruit'. Sounds delicious, right? And being one of my favorites, I was rejuvenated to introduce a new item, fully expecting him to refuse it. Except this time guess what, he loved it! And for a while I felt really good about this, even letting him eat them 2x a day sometimes. 

Then my journey into dissecting labels and exploring nutrition began and made me really look at the ingredients listed in the most common items. Nutella's first ingredient? Sugar, never a good sign. At the time I was also beginning to cut out sugar in his diet all together. He has a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with this sweet poison and if you saw the change in him after eating something sugary you'd understand my overwhelming need to help him. 

So I was horrified to find this as the first ingredient in his favorite all time meal. According to the AHA the recommended daily allowance of added sugar (that is sugar added into things not naturally occurring) is 4 teaspoons for ages 4 to 8, for women 6 teaspoons, and men at 9 teaspoons. One serving of Nutella (2 Tablespoons) has 21 grams of sugar!!! That is nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving. No wonder he was a wild man! More than the recommended amount for an entire day, then add in everything else eaten and you are well on your way to some major issues. I felt completely fooled and pretty angry about it. I learned my lesson and I try hard to not take anything at face value when it comes to claims of "clean labels" and healthy options.

The sugar amount alone is enough to make me never buy it again, but then factor in GMO's (sugar beets and soy lecithin) and how your body processes this poison; I'd get frustrated every time I see that horrible commercial promoting Nutella as a healthy option for your family. Not to mention the ethical issues surrounding palm oil and the damage that is being caused to our rain forests and Orangutans. That's another discussion... But I digress...

So begun my mission to make my own that my son would still eat. I made several attempts, all of which he turned his nose up to. Then I started making progress. Having him help me add ingredients in and taste testing helped him get excited about the process. And soon, although I wasn't happy with the consistency, the flavor was right and it worked for him. It still has taken me nearly 2 years to perfect the recipe, tweeking the amounts each time I make it to get it just right. It is also dairy free!!

Today is that day! I made it 3 times, the consistency was way off and although my kids will eat it - as the flavor was spot on (and they were so sweet waiting so patiently as I scraped the first two batches). I just wasn't happy with the texture or oiliness of it. It was hard to spread on bread and I want it to look like Nutella so that anyone wanting to try this has every chance of converting their little ones over. I was determined, a little voice playing out in my head, telling me I was doing it wrong, try again...

So how does it compare nutritionally? This recipe is 55 calories less per serving, 2.5g less in fat, 10mg less sodium, and here's the big one - 17g LESS sugar! Same great taste with only a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per serving. There's a bit more protein too per serving! At 2.5 grams it's not a ton but proteins are a struggle at times in this house as well so every little bit counts.

Here is the final recipe that he loves, begs, and chants for. Nutella and sliced apple on whole wheat? Yes, please!! Seconds?! You got it buddy!

Homemade Nutella

1 1/2 Cups Roasted Hazelnuts (skins off)
1/2 cup almonds
1 Tablespoon coconut oil (heat to liquefy)
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbls dark chocolate powder
1/4 cup Maple Syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

There are a few tricks... 

If you buy the hazelnuts raw then you will need to roast them first. Roast the hazelnuts at 350' for 10 minutes. Immediately pour into a towel and rub the skins off. Let them cool completely in the towel. If you start mixing before the hazelnuts have cooled the paste will break and you will not get the creamy texture that is notoriously smooth like Nutella. If you leave the skins on it will make the spread bitter tasting. 

I use a Vitamix (seriously the best and most used appliance in my kitchen), but I would think a food processor would work too. I grind the hazelnuts and almonds first to a powder. Almonds are naturally an oily nut so it helps with that smoothness quality. 

I have to give a nod to my mama who taught me that layering ingredients is the best way to keep the consistency you desire. I added the coconut milk and salt first and this created a very liquified mixture. Also it's cold so it keeps the temp down (as the vitamix spins at such a high speed it quickly heats up whatever contents it holds). Add in the remaining ingredients (this will thicken it up) and blend using the tumbler to get the mix moving.  You don't want to over mix it! 

One bag of roasted unsalted hazelnuts from Trader Joes makes 3 batches of homemade delicious Nutella! This amount will last a couple weeks in the refrigerator. It makes lunch time and snacks very easy and it also makes a great dip for apples, bananas, strawberries, etc.

I started this journey 2 years ago and It has been a process, but one that I feel is worth it. Not only do I want better quality ingredients in the food I serve my family, but sugar intake has been at the forefront of my desire to find a better way. What other store bought items does your family rely on but the ingredients make you cringe? I need a new project! 

Oh, and if you are lucky enough to live in Cleveland you don't have to make it yourself... It will soon be on the menu at River Dog Cafe!! (www.riverdogcafe.com)