chocolate hazelnut tartlets

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tart My love affair with nutella began a few summers back while I was travelling around Europe for several months with a close friend. Apples, cheese, nutella and pretzels quickly became our go to snack for train rides, parks, and croatian coastlines. I remember spending an entire day laying in a warm, sunny park in Berlin passing the pretzels and nutella  back and forth as we reminisced about how wonderful the past 3 months had been.

This dessert is a healthy twist on deliciously rich and creamy nutella. Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps below, it is a very easy recipe with just a few pure and simple ingredients. The crust, made with roasted hazelnuts, has nothing but real ingredients and no added sugar. Because this dessert is filled with natural sugars and fats, just a little bit is incredibly satisfying and filling. There are no chemical additives to leave you craving more; just the real stuff that satisfies your sweet tooth with the added bonus of providing nutrition.

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The Hazelnut. Hazelnuts have a wonderful rich and unique flavor that is not commonly found in American cooking. They are a great nut to bake with; providing a wide range of vitamins, minerals, protein, and natural fats.  A ½ cup serving provides nearly 10 g of protein and 12 g of fiber. The fiber in hazelnuts is primary soluble fiber which has been shown to lower cholesterol. Hazelnuts contain high amounts of B vitamins, primarily B6 and folate. B6 works as a coenzyme, helping the body perform a range of metabolic processes. Folate is an important B vitamin that works as a coenzyme aiding in DNA synthesis, DNA repair, cell division and growth, and is important for healthy growth in infants and during pregnancy.

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The Coconut. There is still much controversy over the health benefits of coconut fats. I have done quite a bit of research in this area, and strongly believe that the fat found in coconut milk and oil is healthy, and a great alternative to the processed dairy, butter, and hydrogenated fats that are so prevalent in today’s food system. Like any food, especially fats and sugars, coconut oil should be used in moderation. However, it has some amazing health benefits that should be recognized and consumed.

Saturated fats are often lumped into one category and labeled as “bad”. However, when you take a closer look, all saturated fats have different properties and many can be healthful, such as the medium-chain triglycerides and lauric acids found in coconut oil. Medium-chain fatty acids found in coconuts do not need to be emulsified by bile acids and thus are quickly metabolized and used as energy by the body, rather than being stored as fat. Coconut oil is often added as a supplement by athletes to burn fat because it boosts thermogenesis and burns fat as energy rather than storing it.

Coconut oil is also very rich in Lauric acid, an antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal fatty acid that is unique to breast milk and coconut oil. Lauric acid boosts immune function and kills fat-coated viruses such as HIV, influenza, hepatitis, and herpes.

Some of the negative stigma that coconut oil has attained over the years may be attributed to the misunderstanding of the functions of cholesterol. As research continues to improve and more details about the roles of cholesterol become clear, we now know that there is good and bad cholesterol. Like many saturated fats, studies have shown coconut oil to raise overall cholesterol. However, we now know that coconut oils increase HDL, the healthy cholesterol. HDL cholesterol acts as a broom, moving through the bloodstream and cleaning out LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.

When buying coconut oil, choose organic virgin or unrefined oil. This is made through a wet milling extraction of oil in which wet coconut flesh is shredded and cold pressed. The meat, milk, and oil are then fermented for at least 24 hours and gently heated to separate the oil and water.

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the recipe

There are several components to this recipe, all of which can be prepared simultaneously. I suggest getting all of the ingredients out and starting by roasting all of the hazelnuts together, and then working through each recipe below.

Hazelnut Crust

1 c hazelnuts ½ c oats 1 T flax seeds 6 medjool dates 2 T coconut oil

Preheat your oven to 350º F. Pit dates and soak for 20 minutes in warm water. Toast hazelnuts for 5-10 minutes, until golden and aromatic. Cool and remove skins by rubbing them between your hands or a cloth. Place hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until they are a fine, sand like consistency. Add in oats and flax seeds and pulse a few more times until they are also a fine, sand like consistency. Don’t over process or you will end up with hazelnut butter and we don’t want that for this step. Set hazelnut mixture aside in a small bowl. Add dates and coconut oil into the food processor until a paste forms (it is ok to still have small, centimeter sized pieces of dates in the mixture. Add the hazelnut mixture back into the food processor with the dates and pulse until a moist crumble forms. You are looking for a texture that is still slightly crumbly but holds together well when pressed between your fingers.

Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil and place a teaspoon size ball into each cup, press the mixture into the bottom of the cups and just slightly up on each side. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crusts are golden on the corners and beginning to firm up. They will continue to harden as they cool, but you want them to be cooked enough become crisp and hold the filling.

Chocolate Ganache

1, 6oz bar of high quality organic chocolate, I used 69% cocoa (1 cup chopped) 1 can organic coconut milk, chilled

With a vegetable peeler shave a few slivers of chocolate and reserve for garnish. Roughly chop the remaining chocolate and set aside in a medium mixing bowl. Remove the coconut milk from the fridge (make sure it has been chilling for several hours) and scoop out the solid portion and place in a small sauce pan. Reserve the liquid. This should yield about 1 cup of solid coconut cream. You want a 1:1 proportion of cream to chocolate so adjust proportions accordingly if you have a little more/less coconut cream. Heat on the stove until it just begins to simmer, pour over chocolate and whisk until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until firm.

Hazelnut Butter

1 cup hazelnuts 1 T agave 3 T coconut water (reserved from the can of coconut milk) ¼ t salt

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Toast hazelnuts for 5-10 minutes, until golden and aromatic. Cool and remove skins by rubbing them between your hands or a cloth.  Place hazelnuts in a food processor and mix until a nut butter consistency is reached, add remaining ingredients and mix until as smooth as desired. Add a little more coconut water as needed, but only add small amounts at a time as you are looking for a thick consistency that will hold up in the dessert, and is not at all runny. Set aside until ready to assemble.

Coconut Cream

1 can coconut milk, chilled 1 T agave 1 t vanilla

Remove the coconut milk from the fridge (make sure it has been chilling for several hours) and scoop out the solid portion into a medium bowl; reserve the water for a smoothie or more baking later on. Add vanilla and agave and whisk until a light, fluffy cream forms. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Assembly: Carefully remove hazelnut crust from pan. Make sure that they are completely cool (place in freezer if you need this to happen quickly). On each tartlet, put a nice spoonful of chocolate ganache. Lightly press your thumb into the ganache to create a nesting place for the hazelnut butter. Add a spoonful of hazelnut butter to each tartlet. Top with a dollop of coconut cream and garnish with chocolate shavings.