November 1, 2011

Milk chocolate hazelnut cookies

Oh, the insanity!  Before we proceed on to our regularly scheduled post below, I'd like to mention that we're living through another few days of insanity again.  As Claire Huxtable (from the Cosby show) would say: "let the record show" that not more than two months after Hurricane Irene hit us in the Northeast, we experienced a snow storm right before Halloween (yes, in October!), leaving us with plenty of downed trees/tree limbs and major power outages in the New Jersey area.  Schools closed for five days, more than wiping out the 4 alloted snow days in one fell swoop, and neighborhood trick or treating was canceled.  We consider ourselves very lucky for only losing power for about 30 hours.  Ironically, our neighbors who have lived here for decades can't remember having power outages.  It leaves you scratching your head and wondering what's going on these days.  I really hope this is not a sign of a long winter to come. 

Now...back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Making those delicious hazelnut shortbread cookies recently reminded me of how much I love hazelnuts.  And chocolate and hazelnuts are a magical combination, in my opinion.  I love chocolate with gianduja (I'm not even sure how to pronounce it but it's hazelnut paste) and things like nutella.  During college when I worked part-time in midtown Manhattan, there was an eatery across the street from the office that carried these small Cadbury milk chocolate bars with whole hazelnuts.  I never could resist those purple Cadbury bar wrappers and the ones with whole hazelnuts where I could literally feel the lumps of hazelnuts in my hand always wound up in my hand and at the cash register with me.  It's probably a good thing those particular chocolate bars are hard to find.  I used to eat a bar (I figured they were "small" at about 3-4 inches long, maybe an inch wide) in one sitting.  
So with that in mind, I had to try this recipe for milk chocolate hazelnut cookies from Boston's Flour Bakery.  These were really good, like a warm Mrs. Fields cookie you'd get at the mall (and that's a compliment).  Ground hazelnuts in the cookie dough give the cookies extra chew (and we love chewy cookies over here) while the larger pieces of chopped hazelnut provide crunch and drive home the hazelnut flavor.  The milk chocolate is sweet but balanced by the relatively mild (not too sweet but still nicely caramelized) cookie dough.  My family and I loved these...even the little one who insists he does not like nuts was a big fan.
These cookies are a bit more work since it involves toasting some hazelnuts (I couldn't find blanched hazelnuts so I toasted and rubbed off as much of the skin as possible), grinding some of them finely, and chopping the rest.  You also need to plan a bit in advance since the dough needs to rest in the fridge for a few hours or overnight before baking.  But the good news is you can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to a week and bake some off fresh when you want it.  I choose to make these small but it wouldn't be a bad idea to follow the recipe and go the heftier route since they do spread when baking and come out on the thin side.  I prefer having more as opposed to one giant cookie. 
So if you like the combination of chocolate and hazelnut, I recommend giving these a try.

The full recipe makes about about 20 large cookies (large ice cream scoops or about 1/4 cup balls).  I made half a recipe and firmly packing a small ice cream scoops, I got about 22 cookies.

To start, I chop 6 ounces (half a recipe) of milk chocolate into roughly 1/2 inch pieces.  The recipe calls for blanched whole hazelnuts, toasted.  Since I couldn't find blanched hazelnuts, I toasted regular (skin-on) hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes and rubbed as much of the skin off using a sieve and just my hands.  I don't think some skin remaining on the hazelnuts is a problem at all. 
I used 3/4 cup of hazelnuts for half the recipe.  Grind 1/4 of a cup in a food processor and the rest gets roughly chopped.
In a medium size bowl, stir the ground and chopped hazelnuts, flour, baking soda, salt, and milk chocolate pieces together.
Place room-temperature butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for a few minutes until it is light and fluffy.  I was a little surprised by the length of time for mixing (the recipe says about 5 minutes when you are making the whole recipe) since you generally don't want to over-beat the butter mixture in a cookie recipe (vs. a cake) or the cookie might spread too much when baking.  Stop and scrape the bowl a couple of times to make sure the sugars and butter get evenly incorporated.  Then add eggs and vanilla and beat another couple of minutes until fully combined.  With this amount of mixing, I really think you need to follow the step to let the dough rest in the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight.  If you bake it right away, it's going to be soft and likely to spread too much in the oven.
At this point, slowly add the dry mixture into the butter mixture while the mixer is on low speed.  Mix just until everything is combined.  Scrape the finished cookie dough into a bowl and cover.  Refrigerate it for 3-4 hours or overnight (I left it overnight).  You can keep the batter in the refrigerator up to  a week and bake as needed as well.
The next day, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.  Using a small ice cream scoop, I tightly packed the rounds of dough and dropped them on parchment lined baking sheets.  These small cookies take about 12 minutes in the oven and are done when the edges begin to brown but the center is still a bit soft and pale.  If you follow the recipe and make large cookies, use a large ice cream scoop or drop 1/4 cup dough balls on the paper-lined baking sheet.  Flatten the rounds of dough a little and bake for about 20-22 minutes.
These cookies are very tasty.  They remind me of a warm Mrs. Fields cookie you might get at the mall - and to me, that's a good thing.  The chewiness really stands out and that texture is probably my favorite part.  The combination of milk chocolate and hazelnuts is definitely familiar and welcomed.  If you don't like hazelnuts, you might want to try another nut like macadamia nuts.  Maybe that's the combination I'm thinking of when I say they remind me of Mrs. Fields...


Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies
From Flour by Joanne Chang

- Makes about 20 large cookies -

1 1/2 cups blanched whole hazelnuts, toasted*
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into about 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

* If you can't find blanched hazelnuts, toast regular hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes and rub as much of the skin off as possible between your hands or place them in a sieve and rub together. 

Place 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts in a food processor and grind until fine.  Roughly chop the remaining hazelnuts.  In a bowl, stir together all the hazelnuts, as well as the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate.

Place butter and sugars into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for about 5 minutes on medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during the process.  Add eggs and vanilla and continue to beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes until incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.

On low speed, add the hazelnut, chocolate, and flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Scrape dough into a container and cover tightly.  Let dough rest in the refrigerator at least 3-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Drop 1/4 cup balls of dough (about large ice cream scoops) onto the baking sheet, about 2 inches apart since they do spread.  Flatten the balls slightly with your hands.  Alternatively, you can make smaller cookies by dropping tightly packed small ice cream scoops (you do not need to flatten them).

Bake large cookies for 20-22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  Small cookies take about 12 minutes.  They are ready to come out of the oven once the edges are brown while the center remains pale and a bit soft.  Let cool 5 minutes or so on the baking sheet before removing onto wire racks to cool completely.

Baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 3 days.  The cookie dough can be refrigerated for up to a week and baked as needed.

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