The dreamy chocolate-hazelnut spread that seems to be everywhere these days wasn’t really ‘a thing’ yet in the States (or at least the state of New Jersey) when I was a kid. We were so deprived!
It wasn’t until the ripe old age of almost-16 that I had my first taste of this heavenly elixir; in Italy, fittingly, on one of those whirlwind high-school tours where they herd you through 9 cities in 9 days (I’m probably exaggerating a bit there, but not much).
When we weren’t being dragged through the requisite tourist sites — leaning tower of Pisa, Spanish Steps, Sistine Chapel — we were often left to our own devices; set loose, largely unsupervised, in shady discotecas and other places that weren’t exactly appropriate for a bunch of teenagers. One of the girls I was rooming with spent half the trip worried she might be pregnant, and one afternoon my friend Michelle and I became hopelessly lost in the town of Assisi and convinced ourselves we would miss our bus’s departure and be trapped within the town’s stone walls for all of eternity. It was a strange trip, and let’s just say we were happy to get back home. But I digress.
Most of the food we ate during our travels was dreadful, served in sad underground cafeterias that catered to student tours. I survived mostly on hazelnut gelato (a revelation) and the occasional pastry. But at one of the little inn/hostel places where we stayed (I think it was in Florence, but it could’ve been Rome – it’s all a blur), they served a simple but memorable breakfast of warm, crusty rolls accompanied by packets of a mysterious dark, irresistible substance labeled Nutella. Well, needless to say it was love at first taste. Along with an irrational fear of European travel that stayed with me for several years, I returned from that trip with newly acquired tastes for gelato, almond soda, and spreadable chocolate-hazelnut goodness that comes in a jar.
Fast-forward twenty-odd years, and my tastes have changed a bit. Nutella doesn’t exactly fit into my eating style these days — too sweet, and I don’t love some of the ingredients, like vanillin and soy lecithin. But I still love pretty much anything chocolate-hazelnut in nature. And when I recently spotted Artisana Organics‘ hazelnut cacao spread on the shelf at my local market I had to give it a try.
Basically a healthier version of Nutella, the spread is dairy-free, made with all organic ingredients, nothing artificial, and sweetened with lower-glycemic coconut sugar. It’s absolutely delectable, creamy and balanced, satisfyingly sweet but not cloying. I began my research by eating it by the spoonful (nothing wrong with that!), but wanted to do something special with it, too — and soon had the idea to use the spread as the topping for a cookie-crusted tart with juicy, sweet-tart raspberries. It is berry season, after all.
So I baked a coconut crust — basically a big cookie — using almond flour, shredded coconut, and coconut oil, and whipped the hazelnut cacao spread with a bit of coconut milk and honey to make a silky, spreadable frosting. Then I assembled it – done! So easy. I love that the tart looks impressive and pretty but is super quick and easy to make, gluten-free (and vegan, if you use agave nectar), and not overly sweet or rich. It’s the perfect summer dessert when you want something chocolatey, fruity, and light at the same time.
Chocolate hazelnut tart with raspberries + gluten-free coconut cookie crust
for the crust:
2/3 cup blanched almond flour
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup gluten-free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean powder (or pure vanilla extract)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 to 4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
for the chocolate hazelnut cream:
1/2 cup Artisana Organics Hazelnut Cacao Spread (or other natural chocolate hazelnut spread)
3 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk (I used Native Forest brand)
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
6 ounces fresh raspberries, rinsed and drained on a clean towel
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper.
Combine almond flour, shredded coconut, AP flour, vanilla bean powder and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add 3 tablespoons of the coconut oil and the honey or agave nectar and pulse a few times until a dough forms. The dough should stick together when pinched with your fingers. If it’s too dry add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and pulse again.
Using your fingers evenly press the dough into prepared pan, without going up the sides of the pan. Bake until crust is golden and has puffed up a bit, about 15 minutes (if it begins to brown too quickly reduce temp to 325 F). Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes; remove springform ring and cool completely.
Combine hazelnut-cacao spread, coconut milk and honey or agave in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth and spreadable; it should have a frosting-like consistency.
Transfer crust to a serving plate. Just before serving, spread chocolate-hazelnut cream over crust, leaving about a 1/2-inch border around the edges, and decorate with raspberries.
[Note: the crust and chocolate cream can be prepared 1 day ahead. Bake the crust, cool completely and wrap tightly with plastic wrap; store in a cool dry place. Separately prepare chocolate cream and store in a glass container, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. Assemble tart just before serving.]