Once upon a time, I spent a semester in Rome, committing to memory hundreds of facts about Roman history, art and architecture which I must admit I have mostly forgotten. Broad concepts, yes… itty bitty details, like say dates, not so much. But the experience was life-changing and wonderful, even if I can’t tell you offhand exactly what date the Colosseum was completed. For there are dozens of important Italian culinary lessons seared in my memory that have proven far more useful in my daily life than historical lessons.
One near the top of the list must be discovering the magical Italian marriage of chocolate and hazelnuts. Nutella! Gelato Gianduja! Baci Chocolates! I adored the Chocolate Hazelnut Baci candies so much we actually went on a quest to Perugia to try to tour the Perugina factory (but sadly found it closed).
Probably a good thing… I might still be there.
It seems that if you are looking for chocolate and hazelnuts in a cookie, the answer is usually Italian Biscotti. I must admit, I find biscotti to be a bit dry and sad (yes, yes, I know, the whole point is to dip them in coffee, but still…)
I do adore a good French chocolate sable, though. Sable in French means “sandy” — and sables are a rather fabulous crumbly chocolate shortbread. I came across a chocolate pistachio version in an old Bon Appetit recipe, and decided to swap out the pistachios for hazelnuts, and add a powerful punch of pulsed dark chocolate, and hints of cinnamon and cocoa.
Wow… close my eyes, and the flavors take me back… I can imagine my 19-year old self enjoying one of these at Piazza Navona. Perhaps accompanying a scoop of gelato… or a cappuccino.
Every Christmas cookie collection requires a few fabulous chocolate items… may I suggest this little beauty that harkens back to my “studies” in Rome?
Chocolate Hazelnut Sables
Adapted from a recipe found in Bon Appetit
- 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chunks
- 1 cup toasted hazelnuts
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg white
- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
Place the hazelnuts and chocolate chunks in a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.
Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, cinnamon, espresso powder and baking soda in a medium bowl.
In a standing mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in egg white. Fold in chopped chocolate and hazelnuts.
Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.)
Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart.
Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
Do Ahead: Cookie dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.