I stumbled across Hazelnut “Cotton Candy” by accident. It was a result of a total experiment before my friend’s wedding. And it’s a good thing it went well, because if it had gone wrong, over 150 people would have known about it.
I’ve been known among my friends to make chocolate truffles. I have made upwards of 300+ for a few weddings. The first times I made them they included four different kinds with tempered chocolate coatings. However, last summer for a hot Willamette Valley vineyard wedding (say that five times fast!), my friend and I decided that simple would be better. Many of her guests were coming from out of town, and she wanted to spotlight Oregon’s bounty. What better way than to have a hazelnut dessert?
We decided on making a hazelnut center with a chopped hazelnut coating. I took it a step further and candied the hazelnuts, then ground them in a food processor. I had no idea what I was doing, but when I tasted it I jumped up and down with glee (if you know me, you know I did this, and then looked around sheepishly to see if anyone in the empty house noticed). It took me a second, and then I realized it: these hazelnuts had the texture of fluffy cotton candy with a sweet nutty flavor. Perfect!
The truffles were delicious, despite the 90-degree melting heat. Since then I’ve also used this “cotton candy” for coating a Frankfurter Kranz (see above), and I’m sure it would be delicious sprinkled on custards and topping berries. Or, you could just eat it plain with a spoon when nobody’s looking. Not that I’ve done that before…
Hazelnut “Cotton Candy”
1 cup hazelnuts, whole
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup sugar
1. Preheat an oven to 350F and roast the hazelnuts for about ten minutes, until golden. Let cool, then rub in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins.
2. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.
3. While the nuts are roasting, in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and sugar on medium-low heat. If you have not made caramel before, keep it on the low side of heat. The sugar will begin to melt, then parts will start to brown. Do not stir it. At some point, you will have some whole sugar grains, melted clear sugar liquid, and caramelized brown liquid. Pick the pan up and rotate it gently to make sure the brown liquid doesn’t burn, but still don’t stir it. Be zen, and let the whole thing just melt out. If it looks like it will burn, immediately take it off the heat and let it cool. If it burns, start over.
4. When the sugar has completely melted and becomes a nice light-brown color (careful, it will go from perfect to burned in milliseconds!), add the hazelnuts. Stir quickly to coat as much of the hazelnuts as possible, then turn out onto the prepared cookie sheet. Let cool. It will be one big, ugly, almost unmanageable, and incredibly hot chunk at this point. That is okay, just be careful not to burn yourself. Do not touch it until it’s cooled for at least fifteen minutes!
5. When cool, break up the hazelnuts with your hands (carefully, the caramel can be sharp), and toss them into a food processor. Whir until you get a fine powder. It will keep for several days in an air tight container. If it becomes hard, break it up and then process it again, or use it in larger chunks (delicious for breakfast with cheerios or other unsweetened cereal). If you prefer larger chunks, just don’t process it as long.