I’m sorry. These are really, really cute. Borderline twee. And it gets worse, too. You see, there was a parent event at my son’s preschool this week that included a cookie swap and I hadn’t much considered what I would bring until my apparent reputation preceded me and the other parents started to ask with a tone that suggested they expected something grand. Oops. And so I enlisted what I’ve decided will be my strategy for all future cooking indecisions: What Would Alex Eat?*
I’ve come to the conclusion after eight years of marriage that my husband simply orders better than the rest of us at restaurants (and, I mean obviously in life partners, right? …hello?). I’ll be pushing some kale salad and winter squash thing around my plate and he’ll be eating a garlic butter drenched surf-and-turf. I’ll have fallen for the insanely-too-rich egg-stuffed ravioli in cream sauce and he’ll be eating a pork chop with crackling shishitos. I suggest mushroom tacos; he suggests brisket. So, rather than go through my usual lines of cookie rationale — a gingersnap meets a snickerdoodle meets salted peanut brittle plus brown butter! — I instead tried to dream up the Perfect Alex Cookie, and it’s really no surprise that it required the purchase of a jar of Nutella.
The cookie is essentially a linzer (the cookie kind, not the tart, though they relate), which were incidentally one of my favorites to assemble at the bakery where I worked in high school. We would sift a blizzard of powdered sugar onto the upper cookie lids, and then try to see if we could lift onto their raspberry-slicked bases without a snowflake of sugar falling out of place. The negative shape from the cookies left on the tray delighted me, which should answer your unasked question, “have you always been this weird, Deb?”
Except instead of almonds or walnuts, the usual choice of linzer nuts, here we’re using hazelnuts. And while I’m typically more DIY with fillings, seriously, those packaged chocolate-hazelnut spreads know what they’re doing here. They spread perfectly thin, sticking without being sticky, adhering the cookies to one another without them sliding around or squeezing an excess of filling out onto your hands and they remain glossy at room temperature, should you be charmingly optimistic enough to imagine these might last a few days.
* Wait, you consider what your spouses would want to eat before making something new? That’s adorable.
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Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Hearts
Adapted from Aida Mollencamp
I was all set to start tweaking my usual nut roll-out cookie when I discovered Aida Mollencamp had already done it for us — sweet! I nixed the orange zest and cinnamon, because I really wanted to taste the hazelnuts, which I always toast extra dark for best flavor, reduced the baking time and added a powdered sugar lid, for old time’s sake.
Yield: 25 2 1/2-inch sandwiched cookies (i.e. 50 individual cookies). I used the 2 1/2-inch and 1 1/4-inch (smallest size) hearts from this set. I actually doubled the recipe to serve a crowd.
1 cup (140 grams) toasted hazelnuts (see directions below)
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks (1 cup or 225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (145 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 cup (150 grams) chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella
Place the nuts, flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until the nuts are finely ground, as powdery as you can get them without letting them turn to a paste. (You can tell when it’s beginning to turn to a paste and you should immediately stop when a ring of moist crumbs adheres to base edges of the bowl and doesn’t get picked up when you run the machine.)
Place butter and both sugars in a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat it until light and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add yolks and vanilla, then beat until incorporated, about another 30 seconds. Sprinkle ground hazelnuts and other dry ingredients over butter mixture and mix until just incorporated. Divide dough in half and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill dough packets in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
Heat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Roll out the first dough packet until between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick. Use a 2-inch cutter of your choice to cut out rounds of dough. Use a smaller cookie cutter (a 3/4-inch is ideal) to remove the centers of half of the cookies, creating ring shapes that will later form the lids. If the dough becomes too soft as you’re using it, just slip it into the freezer for a few minutes so that it firms up again.
Bake cookies until golden at edges, rotating trays as needed, about 8 to 9 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough; you can re-chill and re-roll cookie scraps.
If powdering the linzer lids, arrange the ring-shaped cookies (the ones you removed the centers of) on a baking rack with a tray or paper underneath to catch the mess. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Spread each of the cookie bases with about 1 teaspoon chocolate-hazelnut spread. Fit a ring-shaped lid on each. Cookies will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for several days, or so I’ve heard.
To toast your hazelnuts: Hazelnuts can be toasted on a baking sheet in the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes, but don’t take them out just yet. I like to toast them until they’re all the color of milky coffee under their loose skins, and roll them around on the tray every few minutes to make sure they’re toasting evenly. This can take an extra 1, 2, or even 5 minutes, and you should check on them frequently, so don’t go far from the oven after the 10 minute mark. Well-toasted hazelnuts don’t just taste better, with a deeper nutty flavor, but their skins come off more easily. (I even toast already-toasted hazelnuts from Trader Joe’s, as they’re never as golden as I want them.) There are two methods to skin hazelnuts, everyone else’s (rub them with a towel while they’re warm, getting off all the skins that you can) and mine (let them cool until you can hold them, and roll them around, a fistful at a time, in your dry hands, letting the skins fall back on the baking sheet; I do it this way because the towel method always leaves me with hazelnut flakes all over my kitchen when I go to shake it out/bring it to the hamper). Both work.