Dicembre Dolce: Coffee-Hazelnut Chifferi

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Do you have a favorite cookie, one that you absolutely cannot do without during the holidays? In our family, that cookie was my mother’s hazelnut crescents. She had gotten the recipe from a German neighbor but they were just like the nut crescents known as “chifferi” found in parts of northern Italy. Ultra-rich, crumbly, buttery, each one was a melting mouthful of toasted hazelnut heaven. The cookies, dipped in confectioners’ sugar while still warm, were delicate and prone to breaking during dipping, which meant we got to eat the pieces.

Somehow, as much as we loved them, the hazelnut crescents eventually fell out of rotation. It was inevitable. I have half a dozen cookie books alone, including two by Nancy Baggett, one by Alice Medrich, and my own biscotti book. Plus all the December (cookie) issues of Gourmet dating back to 1990 and a slew of special holiday issues of Martha Stewart Living, Cooking Light, and Fine Cooking, and the Washington Post food section’s annual cookie issue. So many good cookies. Too many.

chifferi on plate

After a long hiatus, I decided to bring back the hazelnut crescents. But I gave them a little tweak ~ espresso powder in the dough. This gives the cookies an irresistible warm fragrance and subtle coffee flavor, which goes beautifully with the hazelnuts. And I dipped them in cinnamon sugar instead of confectioners’ sugar. I’m sharing the recipe here, but you will also find it, along with recipes for ricciarelli (chewy almond cookies from Siena), lemon-iced ginger biscotti, and pistachio amaretti in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Fine Cooking.

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For the savory side of baking, here is an article I wrote for The Washington Post on savory treats for the holidays, with recipes for grissini Torinesi (breadsticks), black pepper and fennel taralli (crunchy bread rings from Puglia), and donzelline aromatiche (fried dough puffs from an old Artusi recipe).

Buon divertimento in cucina ~ happy baking, friends!

Makes 4 dozen cookies

Coffee-Hazelnut Chifferi (Crescents)Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

These buttery, delicate crescents from the Italian Albs are similar to cookies from Germany and Austria. In fact, this recipe is inspired by one given to my mother by a German neighbor. Don't love hazelnuts? Make them with almonds, omit the espresso powder, and add just a drop of almond extract if you like. (Recipe first published in the Dec. 2015/Jan. 2016 issue of Fine Cooking.)


  • 1 cup whole hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 8 ounces (1 cup/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and slightly softened
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 400 F. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the skins begin to crack, about 10 minutes. Wrap the hot nuts in a clean kitchen towel and let sit for 1 minute. Roll the towel back and forth vigorously to remove the skins. Not all the skins will come off, which is fine. Discard the skins and let the nuts cool.

Pulse the nuts and granulated sugar in a food processor until the nuts are coarsely ground. Add the espresso powder and salt, and process until the nuts are very finely ground but not pasty.

Scatter the butter around the bowl and pulse until it becomes a smooth mixture. Sprinkle in the flour and pulse just until incorporated. The dough will be very soft. Scrape the dough onto a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap, form it into a disk, wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Heat the oven to 325 F. In a small bowl, mix together the superfine sugar and cinnamon.

Divide the dough into quarters. Divide each quarter into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then roll each ball between your palms to make a cylinder about 3 inches long, with tapered ends. Bend the cylinders to form crescents and place them, 1 inch apart, on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake the crescents, 1 sheet at a time, until set and just beginning to brown around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 5 to 10 minutes. With an offset metal spatula, lift each cookie. Very gently dip each cookie in the bowl of cinnamon sugar, taking care to coat it on all sides. Set the coated cookies on racks to cool completely.

Store the chifferi in an airtight container in layers between sheets of waxed paper for up to 2 weeks.

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27 Responses to Dicembre Dolce: Coffee-Hazelnut Chifferi

  1. Rosa Jeanne Mayland December 13, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    A delightful treat! Those are wonderful cookies. I’d love to give them a try.



  2. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way December 13, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    The cookies look wonderful. They kind of remind me of the same texture as a Russian Teacake or Mexican Wedding Cake — whatever name you want to call them. I’m glad I’m not the only ones who keep the December magazines. I still have my Bon Apeptit magazines for several Decembers. I used to love that magazine and I had their subscription for years. I don’t know what happened I just didn’t like it any more. A lot had to do with the recipes and the food photography — everything look burnt. I am looking forward to trying the Chiefferi. Thank you for sharing your mamma’s recipe.

    • Domenica Marchetti December 14, 2015 at 11:04 am #

      Hi Marisa, yes they are similar to those other ground-nut cookies ~ my favorites during the holiday season. As for Bon Appetit, I was always a Gourmet subscriber. I do know that BA changed regime some years ago and are targeting a completely different audience. I don’t read it so I don’t know much else. Cheers, D

  3. NJ Spice December 13, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    I can just taste these – and they’re excellent!

  4. ciaochowlinda December 13, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    I made something similar this year – the traditional Russian tea cakes – but I wish I had seen this first. Next year, I going for these crescents!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 14, 2015 at 11:07 am #

      There are lots of good ground nut and butter cookies. I used to make pecan butter balls, and then for years it was mocha pecan butter balls (from an old Gourmet recipe). In fact, now as I’m writing this I wonder if that is where the inspiration came to add espresso powder to these crescents. Buon natale cara Linda. xx

  5. amelia from z tasty life December 14, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    devono essere burrosi e deliziosi!!!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Si, molto burrosi. They melt in your mouth! Buon natale cara xx

  6. jamielifesafeast December 14, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    Mmmm I love that you made these special with espresso powder and cinnamon-sugar! And I bought the Fine Cooking issue at the airport so I can make some of your holiday cookies! I was so excited to see you there!!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:34 am #

      Wish we could have gotten together while you were here in the U.S. I guess I’ll just have to come to Hotel Diderot. 🙂

  7. Chiara December 14, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

    a Trieste li facciamo molto simili , si chiamano chifeletti da kipferl , una ricetta austroungarica

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Si, infatti, la ricetta originale era della vicina di casa chi era tedesca. Buonissimi. Ti auguro un Buon Natale cara Chiara. Un abbraccio!

  8. Frank Fariello December 17, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    We must have similar tastes. This is one of my favorite Xmas cookies, too, and I’m not big on sweets.

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:36 am #

      I think that’s one of the reasons I like these cookies. In spite of the fact that they are rolled in sugar, they actually aren’t too sweet, though they are very buttery and nutty.

  9. Adri Barr Crocetti December 17, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    These look wonderful. These nut and butter treats are delicious, so versatile, and their keeping qualities are great. I even think they get better with time. I love your addition of espresso; it makes for a very happy marriage with hazelnut. Brilliant!

    As Chiara notes, this surely is a relative of the classic Austro-Hungarian Kipferl. Even the Italian name is close in sound to the Germanic name. My Hungarian grandmother (my mom’s mom) made Kipferl using almonds, and a dear friend’s grandmother who was from Austria also made them, also with almonds. I love how food travels.

    Buon natale!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:40 am #

      Adri, for the last number of years we have made the almond crescents from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s cookie book. Those are also wonderful. Food can tell us much about history. Endlessly fascinating!

  10. Laura (Tutti Dolci) December 17, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    As a coffee and hazelnut lover, I know I’d adore these cookies!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:41 am #

      Ciao Laura ~ I think you would like these. I’m sure you could put a fabulous twist on them. Your recipes are so insipired. Merry Christmas!

  11. elisa December 21, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    I showed the recipe to one of my neighbors who loves to bake cookies and she made them!!!! And she gave me a plate full of these super delicious treats! I am going to give her more recipes from your blog!! Buon Natale Domenica a te e famiglia.
    Un abbraccio

    • Domenica Marchetti December 21, 2015 at 9:43 am #

      What a sweet neighbor you have Elisa. I’m glad you enjoyed them. Ti auguro un buon natale, amica. Un abbraccio forte!

  12. Valerie December 22, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    I made these and they are divine! Rather than rolling in cinnamon and sugar I used powdered sugar. The older they are the better…last night I ate three. I think the “hint” of coffee really adds a great deal to the flavor. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 22, 2015 at 10:42 am #

      Valerie ~ I am baking a batch of these at this very moment. I couldn’t decide which way to dip them so I am dipping half in cinnamon sugar and half in powdered sugar with a little cinnamon mixed in. I’m glad you enjoyed them. Merry Christmas. P.S. I updated the post to include a link to the espresso powder I used. I bought it online from King Arthur Flour, though in the past I have used instant espresso powder from Medaglia d’Oro. Cheers, D

  13. heidi December 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    Hello! I have a question please. I already have ground hazelnuts from another recipe that required toasting and grinding. Can you tell me what is the measurement for already ground hazelnuts – would it still be 1 cup? Thanks!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 23, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

      Hi Heidi, my best guess is that it would still be about a cup. Just be sure not to pack the measuring cup when you measure. Enjoy!

  14. heidi December 24, 2015 at 2:12 am #

    Thanks Domenica – it seemed to have worked!

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