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 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!