This is phase 2 of my "rid the pantry of half-empty jars of stuff" project (phase 1 here). For a while, I was on a major Nutella kick, mostly using it to bake and spreading it on English muffins for breakfast, but it's been months since I opened a jar of Nutella. On the rare occasion I'm looking for a spread, peanut butter and sometimes Biscoff are my go-to these days. Not only was the Nutella in my pantry taking up valuable space, the "use by" date was rapidly approaching. I hate throwing away food - it's a major pet peeve, so I needed to find a use for the Nutella, and quickly!
I'd seen the idea to make homemade Nutella chunks floating around the web over the past few years, and had mentally bookmarked it as a "could be fun someday" project. No matter how many times someone blogged about it and proclaimed it a success though, I was still somewhat skeptical. I was half convinced the Nutella would never harden enough to cut into chunks, or would melt into a big, gloppy mess in the oven. But since this jar of Nutella was headed for the garbage if not utilized soon anyway, I figured I didn't have much to lose.
There are a few methods for making the Nutella chunks, but the one I ended up going with has you combine Nutella and butter, melting them down into a smooth, glossy mixture that is spread in a layer and frozen. Sure enough, after 2 hours in the freezer, I could cut the mixture into perfect little chunks. I didn't handle them at all (I used a bench scraper any time I needed to move them), and really didn't have any issues with them melting. So far, homemade Nutella chunks were a total success!
I decided to keep it simple and incorporate the chunks into a bar cookie recipe, replacing the chocolate chips. The one I went with is from Cook's Illustrated and it appealed to me because it promised thick and chewy (the best kind of bar, in my opinion), and was quick and easy to throw together. No mixer required here - just a few bowls and a whisk. When it came time to incorporate the Nutella chunks, I erred on the side of caution, and only briefly mixed them into the very thick dough, so they probably weren't as evenly distributed as they could have been. The bars baked up nicely though, and much to my surprise, the chunks were still whole after nearly 30 minutes in the oven. As promised they were perfectly chewy and the Nutella flavor was prominent throughout! They've proven to be the perfect comfort food in which to drown my sorrows over the Bruins game 7 loss last night. Here's hoping for better luck next year :)
Thick and Chewy Nutella Chunk Cookie Bars
cookie bars from Cook's Illustrated, Nutella chunks adapted from The Ivory Hut
6.5 oz Nutella
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/8 cups (10 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup (7 oz) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups Nutella chunks
To make the Nutella chunks: Add the Nutella and butter to a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 30 second bursts on 50% power, stirring in between, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. (Mine needed 1 minute and 30 seconds total.) Spread the Nutella mixture into a rectangular shape on a parchment-lined baking sheet - it should be about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to the freezer for at least 2 hours, or until firm. Place the Nutella rectangle on a cutting board and, with a sharp knife, cut into small chunks. Try not to touch them any more than you need to. Once chopped, place them in a bowl and put back in the freezer until you're ready to use them.
To make the cookie bars: Preheat oven to 325 F with a rack in the lower third. Spray a 13x9 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray then line the dish with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides to allow you to lift the bars out after baking. Spray the aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray too.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together. In a second bowl, combine the butter and both sugars, whisking until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and whisk to completely incorporate. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and use a rubber spatula to fold the dry into the wet just until combined. (The batter will be quite thick.) Remove the Nutella chunks from the freezer and add them to the dough. Use the rubber spatula to fold in the chunks, working quickly to distribute them as best you can.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading into an even layer in the bottom. Bake for 27-30 minutes, or until the bars are golden brown and slightly firm to the touch. The bars will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan when they're done.
Remove the pan to a wire rack and let the bars cool completely before lifting them out of the pan and cutting into squares to serve.