X’mas Hazelnut Cookies (Dolcetti alle Nocciole)

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The Christmas season is heralded in my house with the inebriating smell of sweet treats baking in the oven, may they be my almond pastries, favoured by my boys for their resemblance with Rudolph’s red, shiny nose, or my dad’s morsel of choice, soft hazelnut cookies. These rustic looking nuggets are simply irresistible and they can happily carry you throughout your busy festive day: perfectly dunked in your morning coffee, afternoon tea or after dinner digestivo, they are sure to become your new best friend. The fact that they are rolled and baked in under 30 minutes will make them highly addictive…You are warned!

INGREDIENTS, makes 20

2 egg whites

1 cup of hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)

1-1/2 cup of icing sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies in

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, or the seeds from half vanilla bean

HOW TO

1. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Mix egg whites, gournd hazelnut, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl until a thick paste forms.

3. Pinch off small bits of paste to shape balls the size of a large walnut.

4. Generously roll the balls in plenty of icing sugar.

5. Place the cookies, well distanced apart, onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cracked and beautifully puffed up.

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Cool at room temperature and merrily consume with glee.

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Hazelnut Amaretti (Amaretti alle Nocciole)

Just when I thought I couldn’t make Amaretti because I was out of almond meal (and in no way inclined to take a trip to the supermarket with child and toddler in tow) I found a half-packet of hazelnut meal hidden in the cupboard. The idea struck me immediately, but what if it wouldn’t work? Good news, it did! The savoury nuttiness of the hazelnuts , combined with the gentle sweetness of the meringue and the bitter kick of cocoa powder turns this classic Italian cookie into an irresistible grown-up affair. The addition of chocolate chips has the potential to lure children into tasting them and enjoying them with gusto.

Ingredients

1 egg white, at room temperature

75 gr (1/3 cup +1 tablespoon) of sugar+extra for sprinkling

140 gr (1 cup +2 tablespoons) of hazelnut meal (roasted ground hazelnuts*)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 scant tablespoon of cocoa powder

24 dark chocolate chips

How to

1. In a clean dry bowl, beat the egg white with the sugar until they are stiff and shiny. If you are impatient, like I am, I suggest using a hand-eld electric beater to do the job.

2. Gently fold in the hazelnut meal, add vanilla and cocoa and mix well until all the ingredients are well amalgamated. Don’t panic it , at first , it looks like the egg white won’t be enough to bind the dry ingredients. It will come together in 1 or two minutes and you will be left with a soft, sticky batter.

3. Shape the dough into 12 balls, they size of a walnut and dust each ball with  sugar.

4. Gently push your index finger in the middle of each ball to create a little crate. Push two chocolate chips into each crate.

5. Put the shaped amaretti on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

6. In the meantime bring your oven temperature to 170 C (340 F).

7. Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the amaretti are slightly cracked, but retain some softness. To make sure they are cooked through check that the base is firm and tanned.

Cool them at room temperature (not in the oven,as my friend Helen did…) and enjoy with coffee, gelato, hot chocolate or, if you can handle it, some fiery Grappa.

* Toast shelled hazelnuts in a hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes. As soon a you take them from the oven, rub the nuts vigorously with a towel to remove their bitter brown skins. Grind in a food processor fitted with a sharp blade.

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