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The reason we are all gathered here today- at least in my corner of the universe, is because February 5th is
World Nutella Day 2008. This is the day that my buddies, American expats in Italy, Sara, Michelle and Shelley decided we should all sit back, relax and enjoy the Nutella.
This is a day to celebrate this delicious chocolate-hazelnut spread that puts smiles on faces young and old all across the world.

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My first encounter with Nutella was when I lived in Norway, in 1994. Bread is a big thing in Norwegian cuisine. You eat it for breakfast and lunch with a wide variety of meats cheeses and spreads. My favorite was always Brunost (Brown Cheese) – I had it for breakfast and lunch, every single day. Of course, I was a foodie back then, too, I just didn’t know it yet, so I was addicted to going to the grocery stores there and seeing what kinds of products I could find that were unique to Norway. When I came across Nutella and realized you could eat it on toast for breakfast, I thought it was pure genius. I mean who doesn’t love the combination of Chocolate and Hazelnut? But for breakfast!? I thought this was a Norwegian invention and I was forever indebted, until I found out it was an Italian creation! Gotta love Italy. Anyway, I fell in love with the stuff. I discovered how good it went with waffles, another big treat in Norway. Well by that point I was hooked. When a Dutch friend of mine told me they eat chocolate sprinkles on their toast for breakfast, I began thinking we Americans are totally depraved.

Anyway, I digress. You are wondering about these wonderful pudding cakes I made. Well there is a story behind them too- I will try to be quick about it. Remember the Dolce Italiano Event back in November, where I, along with the geniuses behind World Nutella Day made recipes from Gina DePalma’s newest cookbook: Dolce Italiano: Desserts From the Babbo Kitchen? I made this and this.Well we were only allowed to make 2 desserts for that event (as if I was in any capacity with the impending holidays to make MORE than 2), but there was a third I was really wanting to try, her Chocolate and Date Pudding Cakes. I love dates and chocolate and pudding, so for me it was another match made in heaven. When I was thinking of a recipe to make for World Nutella Day, I immediately went to Gina’s cookbook to look for inspiration. I rediscovered these pudding cakes and decided to alter them to fit the bill for this fabulous celebration that I am sure Ms. DePalma would certainly sanction.

So what I did was instead of using the bittersweet chocolate and butter mixture, I decided to use Nutella. And in place of walnuts, I went for Hazelnuts, much more my liking and a much better match for the Nutella.

The verdict? These cakes are succulent. Yes, that is the word.

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As Gina puts it : “The Medjool dates…contribute a deep caramel flavor that holds hands with the chocolate like a smitten teenager.”

Oh boy, does it. That with the warm taste of the hazelnuts underneath they are just pure heaven. I baked mine for 20 minutes and not minute longer. This made the centers perfectly moist and delicious. Bet you can’t have just one!
Happy World Nutella Day to everyone – get out there and get your Nutella on!

World Nutella Day: How you can participate.

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Nutella-Date Pudding Cupcakes
(adapted from Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano Chocolate and Date Pudding Cakes)

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INGREDIENTS:

1 cup organic hazelnuts
8 large Medjool dates (6 oz) – don’t second guess it, go for the Medjool over regular dried dates.
½ cup organic whole milk
@ 5 oz. Nutella (I eyeballed it – the original recipe called for 4 oz. Bittersweet chocolate and 4 TBS butter)
¾ cup organic unbleached all-purpose flour
2 TBS unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
2 large organic eggs
¼ cup organic natural Florida crystals (raw sugar)
¼ cup packed brown sugar (organic Florida crystals as well)
1 tsp pure bourbon vanilla extract
¾ cup organic heavy cream

( as you can see, I have used mostly organic ingredients. I am trying to do my best with finding good organic baking products. Part of my personal new health initiative).


METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 325 F and position rack in the center. You can use 8 6oz. Ramekins, or like I did a 6 -cup muffin tin. If you are using ramekins, lightly grease them.

Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until golden and aromatic (about 15 minutes -but check after 10). Set them aside to cool.

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Meanwhile, cut the dates in half lengthwise to remove the pits. Then roughly chop. Place in a food processor. In a small saucepan, heat the milk to scald it. Add it to the dates immediately and process it until it forms a paste. Reserve. It may be a bit lumpy, according to Gina, but I processed mine for about 2-3 minutes and it got very smooth.

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In another small bowl, wish together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

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In an electric mixer (or as I did, with a hand mixer) beat the eggs and sugars together on medium speed until they are thick and light creamy yellow, about 4-5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract, followed by the Nutella. Scrape down the sides and add the dry ingredients, ¼ cup at a time on low speed until incorporated (at this point the batter is pretty thick). Beat in date puree, followed by the heavy cream.

Process the hazelnuts in the food processor and then beat that into the batter.

Divide the batter into the cupcake cups (I used a smidge less than ½ cup per cupcake cup). Bake pudding caked for 12 minutes, then rotate and bake an additional 8 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool about 15 minutes before removing them from the cupcake pan. If you are using ramekins, you can serve them right in the dishes. They can also be refrigerated for 24 hours before heating them up to serve.

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Yields: 16 small cupcakes