STAR IN­GRE­DI­ENT

Con­tribut­ing editor and award-win­ning food writer Diana Henry in­dulges in some au­tum­nal bak­ing this month, with three hazel­nut-based recipes

BBC Good Food - - Inside - Pho­to­graphs MAJA SMEND

Diana Henry’s hazel­nut bakes

My favourite choco­late bar when I was a child was a Topic. It was the most solid block of plea­sure – nougat and caramel stud­ded with hazel­nuts and coated in milk choco­late. The ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan for it was ‘a hazel­nut in ev­ery bite’ and I used to get cross if my bar didn’t hon­our this promise.

The com­bi­na­tion of hazel­nuts and milk or dark choco­late is still one of my favourites, so much so that I al­ways have a stash of good hazel­nuts and de­cent choco­late on hand. It’s my grown-up equiv­a­lent of the Topic. A hand­ful of nuts and a few squares of choco­late is a pick-meup at four in the af­ter­noon. I like it at the end of a meal as well, in place of a pud­ding. It’s the so­prano-like sweet­ness of the hazel­nut against the dark bit­ter­ness of plain choco­late that’s so good. No other nut has this. Pecans have a lower tone, a more woody sweet­ness; they’re the tenors of the nut world. Wal­nuts are the bass, their bit­ter­ness al­ways un­der­cut­ting and sub­du­ing any higher notes. I’m not sure who sings alto – prob­a­bly the al­mond – but when I cook with nuts, this is the way I think about them. You prob­a­bly think you’ve had good hazel­nuts. Spain has a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­duc­ing good ones, as does Turkey, but you’ve never truly tasted great hazel­nuts un­til you’ve had those grown in Pied­mont. The first time I vis­ited, the vil­lage where I was stay­ing had a Sun­day mar­ket. Chief among the stall­hold­ers were the hazel­nut ven­dors. They sold sweet hazel­nut purée in jars, a choco­late and hazel­nut spread (noth­ing like Nutella) and, best of all, shelled hazel­nuts in vac­uum packs. Ev­ery­thing I love about the hazel­nut was, in these Pied­mon­tese nuts, ramped up to the max. I haven’t been to Pied­mont for a while and I day­dream about those hazel­nuts. They’re not just good in sweet dishes. Hazel­nuts and cheese – espe­cially beau­fort and gruyère, which have their own milky, hazel­nutty tones – are per­fect to­gether, too. They can also be toasted and crushed with bread and gar­lic to make pi­cada – used as a thick­ener for braises in Spain – or blended with olive oil and gar­lic to make Turk­ish tara­tor, a kind of nut pesto that’s used as a dip. You can buy hazel­nuts all year round, but au­tumn is when they’re har­vested. Let these lit­tle so­pra­nos sing.

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