Gianduiotti (Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies)

We want more cookies at Christmas!

Pretty please?  With a cherry on top?

Coming.  Right.  Up.

OK, it’s not like I haven’t been baking lately.  Or cooking generally.  I’ve just been a tad slack on the old “Take a picture.  Post the recipe” side of things.  Anyone who noticed me posting photos of pizza on the Facebook page will know it took forever for me to post that.
I have gone totally mad on cherries, mangoes and nuts, as I am wont to do at this time of year.  When I say nuts, especially when in the form of nougat.  I’ve made cakes and desserts and … not posted a thing.  I even made my first cool paleo black forest brownies!  I don’t follow a paleo diet at all but it was fun and yum!

But for now, cookies for you … everyone’s going cookie crazy before Christmas.  I have this thing about setting myself a challenge to bake a batch every night, give them funky names, and post them up here on the blog.  Ha … who was I kidding?
Work vs baking … hmmm let me see … if only the two were the same thing 😦    (on that note, I’m totally up for a kitchen-change!)

I will leave that challenge for 2012 … I’m determined to do something of that nature and I love the idea of midnight baking to make it happen 🙂

But for now, more cookies … and because I’m not prone to coloured icing, fondant, and novelties, I’m sticking with what we love to eat at home.  That means chocolate.  What goes well with chocolate?  Well, EVERYTHING in my universe.  But specifically … let’s talk hazelnuts.

When too much gianduja is just never enough … feel free to substitute the word nutella 😀

These cookies were a moment of inspiration that came yesterday as I looked for a way to take my mind off a nasty headache.   There’s obviously nothing revolutionary about them.  They’re quite a typical Italian style cookie, very much in the spirit of a soft and chewy amaretti.  Due to my insane Morello cherry fixation that hits every Christmas when they happen to be in season here for a few short weeks, I’ve topped them with half a fresh tart cherry.  This makes them a little less pretty if you are looking for smooth domes and no juicy dribble down the sides but the tart cherry adds a delicious zing.  Sweet cherries would also be wonderful.    You can leave them plain or top them with candied fruit or a piece of chocolate or a whole hazelnut.  If you prefer, these would be fabulous using pretty much any nut you like too.

They are chewy and the centre remains soft, similar to Italian cookies made with almond paste.  Eaten while still warm from the oven was amazing!  The centre was still gooey … WOW!!

They also make fantastic gifts and are so quick and simple to make.  Although it’s pretty clear I’ve lost my touch with the whole pretty Christmas baked gifts wrapping deal.  I’ve never been a domestic goddess.  No point starting now!

I hope you enjoy the cookies 🙂

Makes: 40 cookies

240 grams roasted hazelnuts (skinned)*
240 grams dark couverture (min. 64%)
275 grams icing sugar
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
20 fresh or frozen Morello cherries (optional – or use glacé cherries, candied orange segments, dried apricots, preserves etc)

* you can substitute any nuts you like for the hazelnuts. If using almonds, replace the vanilla with 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.

Preheat the oven to 135℃.  Line 2 large baking sheets with non-stick baking paper or silpat sheets.

In a food processor, grind together the hazelnuts and chocolate until fine.  Add the icing sugar, egg whites, and vanilla and process until the mixture comes together to form a ball.

Roll the dough in walnut-sized balls and place on the trays, leaving room between them.  I find the best way to get evenly sized cookies is to cut the dough into four pieces then each in half.  Lightly roll each piece into a small log and cut into five equal pieces.

If using the cherries, cut each in half and place on each cookie, pressing very gently.

Ready for baking 🙂

Bake for about 20 minutes.   Remove from the oven to a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely before serving or storing, at room temperature, in an airtight container.