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.
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!
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.