Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Hazelnut Cookies

Tomorrow is the day for one of my favorite holiday events...a cookie exchange! I love seeing everyone's family cookies and traditions. I'm not really sure if my family has one special cookie that says "Christmas". Of course, there are always the cut-out sugar cookies and sometimes those yummy peanut-buttery cookies with the big Hershey's Kiss in the middle (extra tasty if they are still a little warm from the oven).

The one sweet that most sticks out in my mind are the chocolate covered coconut balls (unfortunately known as "Mounds Balls"). I've made them several years now and I just couldn't face another year of rolling those sticky little coconut balls seemingly by the hundreds, dipping them into the chocolate/wax liquid, then letting them harden impaled on a toothpick stuck in some styrofoam. I needed something new this year!

Enter Food & Wine magazine...oooo, holiday cookie recipes! After flipping through the section, I settled on Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies. The others looked great, but I figured the little Russian Tea cookies (or it's many nuanced variations) would probably be making an appearance tomorrow.

Plus, I just plain love anything that combines butter, sugar, chocolate, and nuts!

We were asked to bring 3 dozen cookies (a fairly modest amount by cookie exchange standards--I heard of a 12 dozen party last year!). The recipe says it makes 40 sandwich cookies...perfect, I think.

Now, maybe it's just me, but have you ever actually made the full yield from any recipe? For some reason, I'm always a few short (or a dozen or two--I like big cookies).

I thought I did everything correctly...I chilled the dough, I rolled it to 1/4 inch (I used my ruler to check...boy, I could use some of those roller pin thingys). Lacking a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter, I traipsed all over the house with my ruler measuring various potential cookie food jars, canning lids, pencil sharpener cases, water bottle caps. Nothing quite fit, until I checked that cupboard in the laundry room labeled "Various and Sundry".

Hmmm...empty plastic Easter Eggs...those look about right. 1 1/2 inches! There was a tiny hole in the top, so I cut into the egg with my kitchen shears to make a place for my finger to pop out the cookies after I cut them. Who needs expensive cookie cutters?

I swear I cut those cookies as close as possible, rerolling the scraps and cutting out some more. But I was coming up waaaay short! Like 2 dozen short. Okay, I don't think there will be any "sandwiching"...but we can work with that.

I simply dipped those beautiful sandy brown cookies halfway in the chocolate and sprinkled them with some chopped hazelnuts. Beautiful! My son loved being the "sprinkler man" and it was gratifying teaching him how to "move your hand" when you sprinkle so you don't end up with a pile of nuts in one spot. He caught on quickly.

These cookies could become a family tradition...we'll see how everyone feels about them next year.

Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut Crisps


1/2 c plus 2 TB raw hazelnuts (filberts--the nerd of the nut family)
3/4 c sugar
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice (if you like this one)
Pinch of cloves
1/8 tsp salt
2 sticks plus 6 TB butter, softened
3/4 c (6 oz) chocolate (I used bittersweet, but you can mix and match here)


Preheat the oven to 325. Toast the hazelnuts for 15 minutes until their skins blister. Transfer to a clean towel and rub vigorously to remove their skins. Take 2 TB of the really clean looking nuts and finely chop--these are for the sprinkling. The rest don't have to have all the skins removed.

In a food processor (or a blender on "grind"), finely grind the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts with 2 TB sugar. If you are using a food processor, you can pulse in all the other ingredients through the salt. Then add the 2 sticks of butter to make the dough. I don't have a food processor, so I transferred my nut/sugar mixture to my Kitchenaid and mixed everything in like regular dough.

Since there are no eggs in the recipe, the dough is sandy. Turn it out onto a work surface and knead it together a bit. The warmth from your hands sort of "melts" it together. Pat it into two 8 inch rounds and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the rounds on a piece of parchment (cover the dough with plastic wrap to keep the rolling pin from sticking). They should be about 10 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out the cookies with a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter (or hacked up Easter egg). Arrange on the baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart.

Combine the scraps and chill for another 15 minutes. Repeat cut out procedure. Bake cookies one sheet at a time for about 20 minutes (at 325). Cool on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate and 6 TB butter over low heat, whisking until smooth. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Dip cookies halfway into chocolate, lay it on the parchment, and let your "sprinkler man" shower some of those chopped hazelnuts on the chocolate for added crunch. Let the chocolate set for about 30 minutes.

These can be stored in an airtight container separated by wax or parchment paper for up to a week! And they are delicious with some hazelnut ice cream drizzled with the remaining chocolate sauce (it gets hard and crunchy on the cold ice cream!).


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