And so it begins
December 8, 2010 § 2 Comments
I have a confession: I’m just not feeling Christmas yet. By this time last year I had already made a huge batch of mincemeat for pies, a Christmas pudding, and helped to make a Christmas cake which I was diligently feeding with brandy every week. This year: nothing. First of all, how is it December already? How can the US to UK posting deadline be this week (cue heart palpitations)? But more than anything, the whole Halloween/birthday/Thanksgiving trifecta of parties and spectacular eating did its job especially well this year and provided a buffer so solid that I’m going to need industrial quantities of mulled wine, a tree so big that we can’t get it through the door without a hacksaw, and Santa Claus the Movie on repeat to burst through the bah-humbug and get in the spirit.
The cookies help. Since I’m far too late to get into the whole dried fruit and suet thing this yuletide, I am declaring 2010 to be the year of the cookie in our house (cough, apartment). And this hazelnut cookie is a pretty fine place to start. It sports an attractive cracked surface flecked by nut chunks, and the texture is irresistably chewy. But the selling point on this cookie that propelled it to the top of the list above the pink grapefruit squares, and the rugelach, and the chocolate gingerbread, and the rest of my extensive “to bake” list, is one of the ingredients: nutella. Now, I am fortunate enough to have need of very few food rules, but I am powerless before a jar of nutella to the extent that I just won’t buy it unless absolutely necessary. It’s fortunate for us all that this recipe required about exactly one tub of this creamy, nutty goodness minus just enough to provide a thick coating to a couple of pieces of toast. Otherwise I would still be on the spectacular sugar high and this post would be less than coherent.
As good as these cookies are in this form – and that is really good, I am planning to try a variation with the next batch and fold in some bittersweet chocolate shavings and top them off with a pinch of sea-salt: call it the Mrs Claus spin on this more elfish version. And I have plenty of room to experiment: be forewarned that this recipe yields cookie dough aplenty for a decent-sized party or your entire extended family. You could halve the quantities easily, or follow my lead and freeze half, or even three quarters, for future cookie cravings. If you choose to bake them all, just know that they contain nutella and I can’t therefore be responsible for the outcome.
Adapted from Holiday Cookies 2010 from America’s Test Kitchen
Yields about 7 dozen cookies
3 cups / 330g all-purpose or plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups / 300-325g Nutella spread (or any chocolate hazelnut spread)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) / 60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups / 180g sugar (cane or caster)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso powder*
1/3 cup / 80ml milk
2 cups / 260g hazelnuts
1 cup / 200g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
*instant espresso powder is more common in the US than the UK. It’s a very fine powder, so it mixes into cake batters well. In other words, it’s not the same as freeze-dried granulated coffee, which would stuggle to dissolve and leave chunks in the dough. In the UK you might find instant espresso powder in an Italian deli, or even in the supermarkets – if anyone checks this out, please do let me know. An alternative is to make some espresso and then substitute a tablespoon of the milk for a tablespoon of the coffee, adding it along with the milk at the liquid and flour addition stage.
Begin by toasting the hazelnuts. You can do this either in the oven or on the stovetop. If you are doing the whole batch here, the oven version is easier. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in a 350F/180C oven for around 5 to 10 minutes, until starting to brown and fragrant. You should give the sheet a shake every now and again to ensure even toasting. If you are making smaller quantities and don’t want to turn the oven on, simply add the nuts to a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat for 5 or 6 minutes, shaking pretty frequently and keeping a close eye on the nuts so they don’t burn. Once toasted, let the nuts cool before chopping them. It’s easiest to do this in a food processor, but if you don’t have one you can put them in a ziplock bag and bash with a rolling pin, or just use a knife.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set to one side. Beat the nutella, butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or using an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, then the vanilla and espresso and mix until incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternate additions of the flour and milk, mixing until just combined after each addition. Fold in half a cup, or 65 grams of the hazelnuts.
Divide the dough in half, or quarters, depending on how many batches of cookies you want to bake off (I divided into quarters so I can bake off just a dozen or so at a time). Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least two hours, until firm, or up to 24 hours. If you want to freeze the dough, put it straight into the freezer where it should keep for a month or so.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 375F/190C. Line one or two baking sheets (depending on how many cookies you are making) with parchment paper. Place the remaining hazelnuts and the confectioners’ sugar in two separate bowls. Take chunks of dough that form balls of about 1 inch diameter and then roll first in the hazelnuts and then in the confectioners’ sugar. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. Leave on the sheets to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you are doing the whole batch, repeat with the remaining dough.