THIS RECIPE is inspired after my recent year living in Piedmont in northern Italy. The region produces Italy's best hazelnuts and doubles as the home of Nutella, or gianduja as the local chocolate hazelnut paste is called.
Gianduja came to be in the 19th century, when Napolean's trade ban restricted imports from Britain entering Europe, and this meant cocoa became scarce in the busy chocolate houses of Turin. A local chocolatier was forced to bulk out his chocolates using local ingredients, and this is how the sweet, deeply roasty flavours of local Langhe hazelnuts came to mingle with chocolate in a match that continues to be made in heaven.
Ferrero Rocher-inspired choc-hazelnut protein balls
These balls are a healthy take on Ferrero Rocher chocolates, and are perfect for virtuous snacking.
10 Medjool dates, torn in half, pitted
1/2 cup (125ml) hot espresso (or water)
1/4 cup (60ml) coconut oil, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (250g) hazelnut meal
1 1/4 cups (220g) roasted buckwheat (from health food stores)
1/2 cup (60g) cacao nibs
1/2 cup (50g) cacao, plus extra to dust
1/3 cup (35g) chocolate protein powder
20 whole roasted hazelnuts
Combine dates, espresso (or substitute warm water), coconut oil and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes to soak. Using a stick blender, puree until a smooth puree.
In a large bowl, combine hazelnut meal, buchwheat, cacao nibs, cacao and protein powder. Add date puree and a pinch of salt, and stir until sticky and combined.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and grease hands with a little coconut oil. Compress and roll mixture into 20 walnut-sized balls. Make an indent in the centre of each with your thumb, add a whole hazelnut, then reform ball around the hazelnut to completely cover.
Transfer to prepared tray and chill for 30 minutes to firm up. Dust with extra cacao to serve. Keep balls in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 2 months.