Hazelnuts (noccioli) are beloved throughout Italy, and the taste of roasted hazelnuts never fails to conjure up sense-memories of that lovely land. I recently bought a bag of ground hazelnuts (aka hazelnut meal or flour) when I finished off my supply of almond flour. Thanks to those ground hazelnuts, I’ve been on a bit of an Italian sweet-baking quest recently, inspired by a couple of cookbooks:
- Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray, a nice little compendium of classic Italian-American small sweets;
- Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, pastry chef Gina DePalma’s collection of cookies, cakes, tarts, gelato, etc.
In Dolce Italiano, I found a recipe for nocciolati, chewy, tender cookies made with ground hazelnuts, eggs, and melted butter (p 52). Sugar and eggs are beaten together for several minutes, then melted butter & vanilla are stirred in, along with flour, baking powder, and ground hazelnuts. Small balls of dough are rolled in powdered sugar before baking, so the cookies puff and spread slightly, creating a crackled outer shell. The resulting cookie’s texture is reminiscent of a slightly crisp macaroon, packed with nut flavor…an excellent tidbit alongside a 10 am cappuccino.
The technique–creaming eggs and sugar, then adding melted butter–intrigues me. I plan to rework the recipe, using ground pecans in place of the hazelnuts and adding a bit of cocoa powder and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger?) to the coating sugar. An almond version would be nice, too: with a bit of citrus zest in the cookie and a tiny bit of lemon powder added to the confectioner’s sugar. And how about ground walnuts, with a granulated maple-sugar coating? Ah, the possibilities….