One of the hallmarks of the Christmas season for me growing up was my mom’s baking. Butter tarts, shortbreads, chocolate truffles, molasses toffee, and orange-cranberry bread were made nearly every year, and only at Christmastime. Sometimes the plate was enhanced with gourmet chocolates. In fact, I associate that plate of treats with Christmas just as strongly as I do fires in the fireplace, the smell of fir trees, and the sounds of carols.
So, as an adult with my own kids now, I continue this holiday tradition, albeit now with Paleo-friendly and much lower sugar content treats. Every year, around the middle of December, I start baking. Mostly cookies, but also coffee cakes and confections, just like my mom. Whatever company I have throughout the holidays find themselves presented with a Christmas baking plate, typically with 5-8 different treats to choose from. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, we pack up little boxes or tins with these goodies and give them to our neighbors and friends.
In fact, many of the treat recipes on my blog originate from holiday baking experiments, often my attempts to replicate the holiday flavors of my childhood. This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite gourmet chocolates that sometimes made an appearance on my mom’s plate of baking: chocolate covered hazelnut clusters.
I know I’ve already mentioned just how much I love the chocolate hazelnut combination. Well, that love goes waaaaay bac. What I love about this recipe is that you can make it very bitter for those of us who are used to consuming very little sugar (I personally like using 80%–90% dark chocolate for these, plus very dark chocolate is much easier to find soy-free) or you can make it a little sweeter to accommodate company or kids (although my kids love 80% dark chocolate).
It really is worth it to buy raw hazelnuts and toast them and skin them yourself. But, you could buy pre-roasted or raw skinned hazelnuts which would then save you some time. And, if you don’t like hazelnuts, feel free to substitute whatever nuts or seeds you prefer (almonds and raisins are another fantastic combination).
Makes about 18-20 pieces.
- 3 cups raw hazelnuts
- 12 oz dark chocolate (70%, 80%, 90% or even 99-100%)
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (you can also substitute butter, ghee, lard or palm shortening)
- 1/2 tsp coarse unrefined salt (optional; I like to crush Himalayan pink salt in a mortar and pestle for this)
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and immediately pour into a clean tea towel. Fold the tea towel over the hazelnuts and let them sit for 1-2 minutes.
- Now, with the tea towel still covering the hazelnuts, rub the top to start removing the skins (this always reminds me of the original 101 Dalmatians where Roger rubs the towel covering Lucky and saves him, yeah, I know that’s kinda strange). You can open up the tea towel and see how you’re doing (at this point, the towel is really just to protect your hands from those hot nuts!). Pick out the hazelnuts that have the skins removed (its fine if there’s a little left on them) and continue until you’ve removed all the skins from the hazelnuts.
- Discard the skins and place the hazelnuts back on the tea towel (you could also do this step on a cutting board on in a large ziplock bag). Crush the hazelnuts with a rolling pin, until the pieces are pea-sized or a little smaller.
- Melt chocolate and extra virgin coconut oil over a double boiler or in the microwave on medium power.
- Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper, wax paper or a silicone liner.
- Mix crushed hazelnuts into melted chocolate and pour onto prepared baking sheet. Spread to 1/4″-3/8″ thick (it won’t cover your whole baking sheet and that’s fine). Sprinkle salt over the top.
- Refrigerate until chocolate is cold and hard. Remove from the fridge and break into pieces (however big or small you like). Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge. Enjoy!