Nutella Shortbread Brownies
Many years ago, when I was living in Paris and working as a part-time English teacher and part-time nanny, I catered a Christmas party for a Parisian family. The pressure was high, cooking for this group of sophisticated Parisian food-lovers, but I was determined to wow them. Now this crowd, despite the typical French willpower in the face of dessert, loved sweets. In fact, I recall that at least half of the items I made that night contained sugar. They wanted American desserts, so I obliged, with pumpkin cupcakes (and cream-cheese frosting), pecan bars, chocolate chip cookies, and my homage to both France and America, these decadent little Nutella shortbread brownies.
Now the guests at this party may have been a tad skeptical at first, upon hearing about the young American cook, but by the time they had tasted the Nutella brownies, all doubts had turned to bliss. I was swarmed with admirers (of the brownies): “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” (What is it?!) “C’est une reve!” (It’s a dream!) “Elles sont magiques… superbes… ravissantes!!” (They’re magic… superb… delightful!) I have never heard a more appreciative crowd than these French party-goers post-dessert. Perhaps they were just in a sugar coma (or maybe it was the Champagne talking), but after such an enthusiastic response, I’ve been making these hazelnut brownie bars ever since.
These are actually inspired by a recipe for Fudgy Brownie Bars I discovered on Epicurious.com years ago. I’ve changed the recipe a good bit, adding Nutella and vanilla, reducing the sugar by half a cup, and adding in whole roasted hazelnuts. I also swapped out salted butter for unsalted in the shortbread base, and I love the salty-sweet contrast. The result is a crisp shortbread base and a decadent, fudge-like Nutella brownie topping. In other words: heaven!
If there’s one thing you bake this holiday season, I’d strongly recommend these show-stoppers. Yes, the butter content is alarmingly high. Yes, they take over 30 minutes to make. And yes, they probably have a zillion calories. But you will be hard pressed to find a more crowd-pleasing confection. Cut them into bite-size pieces for a party, or make a batch and freeze half for a snowy day. They also make fabulous holiday hostess gifts, packaged in a cellophane bag and tied with a pretty ribbon. Happy baking!
NUTELLA SHORTBREAD BROWNIESMakes 24 bars
Salted Butter Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
Hazelnut Nutella Brownies:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Nutella
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole roasted hazelnuts, skins removed•
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
For the Salted Butter Shortbread: Combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt in bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is full of pea-size lumps. (If you don’t have a food processor, just combine the mixture in a bowl. Using a fork and knife, cut the butter into the flour to create pea-size lumps. Or just use your fingers!)
Sprinkle the mixture into an ungreased 13″x9″x2″ baking pan; press the mixture evenly into the pan with your hands (or a metal spatula). Place in the oven and bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly while making the brownie layer. Keep the oven set to 350°F.
For the Hazelnut Nutella Brownies: Melt the butter and the chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and beat well with electric beaters (or a whisk). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla and the Nutella and continue beating.
Stir in the flour and the salt, until no streaks remain. Stir in the hazelnuts. Pour the mixture over the shortbread base and smooth the surface with a spatula.
Bake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs attached. (The middle of the brownies may crack a bit–this is normal.) Cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.
TO CUT: Using a sharp knife, cut around the edges of the brownies to loosen them from the pan. Using one hand on the bottom of the pan and one hand on the brownies, carefully flip the pan upside down onto a cutting board. Tap the pan a few times, then remove it–the brownies should be shortbread-side up on the cutting board.
Flip them over so the shortbread side is on the cutting board and the brownies are on top. Dip a sharp knife into hot water and carefully cut the brownies into 24 bars (cleaning the knife and re-dipping it into the water between cuts). It’s important to have a sharp knife for this process to cut through the hazelnuts!
Store the brownies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days (or freeze).
*To roast the hazelnuts, place them on a baking sheet and roast them in a 350°F oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly browned and the skins are beginning to split. Dump the hazelnuts into a bowl and using a kitchen towel (so you don’t burn your fingers!), rub the skins off and discard them.
My name is Anna Watson Carl. In a word, I love food, I love France, and I love throwing dinner parties. Over the years, I've worked as a personal chef, taught cooking classes, edited cookbooks, written for magazines, tested and styled recipes, and traveled whenever opportunity has arisen. But at heart, there's nothing I love more than sharing a meal with friends around the yellow table.
For me, cooking has always been a way of life. As a (mildly precocious) ten-year old, I planned and prepared a four-course Valentine's dinner for my parents, birthing a lifelong passion for dinner parties. That was just the beginning. I've been cooking ever since, whipping up souffles at a chateau in Burgundy, searing filet mignon for a wealthy client's dog (bizarre, but true), butchering ducks for confit de canard in Paris, baking the night shift in Nashville, and bathing the floor of my NYC apartment in turkey brine...the story continues....more
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