October 10, 2011

Hazelnut shortbread cookies

Growing up, we didn't eat a ton of sweets...well, there were plenty of chocolates but dessert was not really common.  Not because we were a health-conscious family but because growing up in Hong Kong, desserts and pastries were just not the thing.  Yes, there were egg tarts, various dessert soups, and chestnut filled sponge cakes (one of my favorites) but in general, it was about the savory.  And believe me, there are incredible savories to be had in Hong Kong.  But one of the sweet flavors I do remember eating and loving a lot as a child was butter cookies.  Those Danish cookies in the blue tin?  Oh, I still love the smell and taste of those cookies - just the simplicity of butter and sugar.  I loved how they came in slightly different shapes, tucked away in little white paper liners.  I would pore over it considering my options, deciding which one I'd want.  My favorite was the pretzel shape with the sanding sugar on top. 
I thought about how much I love butter or shortbread cookies as a kid when I was making these hazelnut shortbread cookies.  It's fascinating how a scent or taste conjures up memories.  But gone are the days when I can eat whatever I want without some consideration of fat and calorie count and the ingredient list.  So while I may love butter cookies, I tend to shy away from them.  It's really hard to eat just one.  But when I saw this recipe for chocolate hazelnut cookies from Ina Garten's most recent book, I had to try it.  I love hazelnuts and this recipe did not disappoint. 
For someone who loves to bake, I've shamelessly proclaimed my dislike of making roll-out cookies in the past.  I really appreciate beautiful things and the natural talent and patience some people have to make a gorgeous sugar cookie iced to perfection.  But honesty, rolling out dough and busting out the rolling pin and cookie cutters are not my favorite activities since I'm not the most patient person in the world.  So I usually reserve roll-out cookies for the holidays.  But this recipe called out to me and I was willing to dig out my rolling pin to give it a go. 

Luckily, this was quite painless and practically enjoyable.  The dough holds together beautifully and this Fall weather is perfect for handling this type of butter cookie dough (it's not melting right under you).  Plus, there is no icing to conjure up.  I love the specks of hazelnut throughout this cookie dough and the wonderful smell they gives off when baking.  You could sandwich two of these cookies with Nutella as the recipe intends but ultimately, I liked it plain and unadorned best.  Even my little one preferred it plain and he's a fan of Nutella like the rest of us.  There's so much flavor in the cookie itself that the Nutella gets lost anyway.  I definitely ate more than one.
And confession time: I would've eaten more had I not over-baked half my batch.  I was chatting on the phone with a friend of mine and totally forgot about the cookies in the oven (hence, I didn't rotate the cookie sheets like I was supposed to) until they were just about done and the timer was ready to beep.  By that time, the tray at the bottom of the oven had over-browned.  It's a shame since these were so good but these things happen.  And I'm happy at any chance to chat with a friend even if it means sacrificing some cookies.  I can always make more another day.  And I will make these again.  There's something really elegant about them.  If I was the tea party throwing type (and in my mind, I am, but in practical daily life, it rarely happens), this is the perfect cookie to serve with a cup of tea.

I made half the recipe for these hazelnut shortbread cookies, as I very often do.  They're actually called "chocolate hazelnut cookies" in the book, referring to the generous spread of Nutella filling used to sandwich two cookies together.  I really liked these cookies on their own but if you plan to make sandwich cookies, consider making the entire recipe, which only yields about 18 when sandwiched together.  But a word of warning: you'll be using 3 sticks of butter for a full recipe.  I just couldn't do it.

To start, take whole hazelnuts (1/4 cup for half recipe) and toast them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  When they are warm out of the oven, you can rub off some of the skin that easily slips off but some leftover is perfectly fine, and in fact good, since it looks nice in the dough.  Once they're cooled, pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground.  The hazelnuts really make these shortbread cookies extra delicious.  It adds a little texture while the fine specks running throughout the dough make the cookies look more interesting.

In a bowl, sift 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt.  Then add 1 1/2 sticks of room-temperature butter and 1/2 cup sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat until just combined.  Add in 1/2 teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extract and 1 teaspoon of water.  Then, gradually add the flour mixture.
Once incorporated, mix in the ground hazelnuts. 
When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Shape it into a disk, cover with the plastic, and chill for half an hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick.  I find that rolling dough from the center outward is the best way to get an even layer. 
Cut with cookie cutters about 2 3/4 inch in size.  You could really use any cookie cutter shape you like or have; you'd just end up with a different amount of cookie and need to be mindful of baking time.  The fluted rounds are very pretty and perfect for this cookie though.  If you have a small cutter, cut out a small circle in the center of the cookies.  This looks very nice when you sandwich 2 together and have a bit of filling peeping out.
The dough was very easy to handle.  The cool temperature certainly helped.  Once cut and placed on parchment-lined sheets, chill the cookies for 15 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, rotating the sheets midway.  They might take a little more time than that but from my firsthand experience, they can over-brown quite easily so be watchful.  They are done with the sides begin to brown. 
Cool the cookies on a wire rack.  If you like to sandwich them, just spread some Nutella (as much or as little as you prefer) on the flat side of the cooled cookies.  Dust the tops with some confectioners' sugar before placing them on the Nutella filled halves, dusted side up.
This is a really excellent recipe.  Simple flavors that's just delicious.  I guess this is why Ina Garten is such a rock star.  A few months ago, she was scheduled to sign books at a local William Sonoma.  My husband kept urging me to go.  I was on the fence but I kept considering it since I do enjoy her show a lot and she's just one of those people you've come to expect stellar recipes from.  I thought there would be a line but nothing of the magnitude of what I ended up seeing.  We happened to be at the mall at the time and I thought I might pop in since I was there.  I think the line was a couple hundred deep.  All those women, you'd think Johnny Depp was in there!  Guess I'll just have to thank her here for introducing me to some of my favorite recipes.  Thank you, Ina!


Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies
Or Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?

- Approximately 36 individual or 18 sandwich cookies -

1/2 cup hazelnuts
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread for filling (optional)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes.  Rub hazelnuts lightly with fingers and remove skin that has come off.  Some skin remaining on the hazelnuts is perfectly fine.  Once cooled, place hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Sift flour and salt in a bowl and set aside.  Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until just combined.  Stir in extracts and 2 teaspoons of water.  With the mixer on low, add flour gradually.  Add the ground hazelnuts and mix until the dough comes together.  Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Shape it into a disc and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

On a slightly floured surface, divide the dough into two pieces.  Roll each to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut with 2 3/4 inch rounds with a plain or fluted edge cutter.  (You could use other size and shape cookie cutters according to your liking - just keep an eye on them while baking).  If you like, use a smaller, about 3/4 inch, cutter (I used a pastry tip) to make a circle in the center.  Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Chill cut cookies for about 15 minutes before baking.

The cookies should be done in 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan midway during the baking time.  They are done when the edges begin to brown.  Keep an eye out on the baking time to avoid over-browning. 

Cool cookies completely on cooling rack.  To make sandwich cookies, spread Nutella on the flat side of cookies.  Dust tops with confectioners' sugar and place tops on the Nutella halves, dusted side up.  Or simply dust individual cookies with confectioners' sugar or enjoy it completely unadorned.  They are delicious on their own; I actually prefer them that way.


  1. I have this book and have made the cookies, but I'm being lazy and thought I could find it online. So glad I searched because your blog is lovely and your pictures are, too!

  2. Thank you for the comment, momsicle! Enjoy the cookies - they're sooo good. : )



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