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[Photographs: Lucy Baker]

I have a culinary crush on Susan Herrmann Loomis. Who wouldn't? Following her passion for all things French and farmhouse, she moved from the United States to Normandy, where she lives in a converted monastery and runs a highly acclaimed cooking school. Sigh.

I've dreamed of taking a class at On Rue Tatin for years, but for now I'll have to be content with cooking my way through her cookbooks, the latest of which is charmingly titled Nuts in the Kitchen. Lots of recipes in the book sound to-die-for, but the one I couldn't stop thinking about was the Heavenly Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, which Susan describes as the "chunky" version of Nutella. Um, sold.

So sold, in fact, that I absolutely had to make it immediately, even though I only had one cup of hazelnuts in the pantry (the recipe called for two cups). I decided to make up the difference with almonds.

The method is approachable and unfussy: toast hazelnuts (and almonds) in the oven until you can smell them. Rub off as much of their skins as you can with a kitchen towel, but don't worry if you don't get every last bit. I confess I only got about three quarters of the skins off, and my spread was still fabulous. Process the nuts in a food processor until they melt into a paste. Then add confectioners' sugar, top quality cocoa powder, a pinch of salt, and a bit of canola oil to smooth things out.

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The results were like Nutella to the nth degree. Seriously, I had to stop myself from licking the blade of my food processor to get every last bit. The toasty, nutty, and ever-so-slightly bitter taste of the hazelnuts and almonds was offset by the intensity and richness of the cocoa powder, and the hint of salt really brought the favors into focus. The spread was about half as sweet as the store-bought stuff—think of Nutella as milk chocolate and this as 70 percent dark chocolate. While it wasn't as chunky as chunky peanut butter, it had a pleasantly sandy texture, and every few bites you got a nice little pebble of hazelnut or almond.

I loved this recipe so much that I didn't even mind my yield was off: Susan says it makes two cups, but I only got one and a half. Whatever. It's just the right amount to fill three four-ounce jars for a few very lucky friends this holiday season. The hazelnut-almond spread will keep for a few days on the counter and up to a month in the fridge.

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