Hazelnut Cocoa Tea Cookies

biscottini da te alle nocciole

biscottini da te alle nocciole

Biscottini da Te’ al Cacao e Nocciole

Italy’s Langhe region, in the heart of Piedmont, produces some of the finest wines in the world. However, to many foodies, Langhe is first and foremost synonymous with nutty and chocolaty treats.  The local hazelnut, “Tonda Gentile”, is in fact considered the highest-quality hazelnut in the world, and the jewel of the Italian production. Even the famous food writer David Lebovitz writes, “I do not like to speak in superlatives, so when I say that the hazelnuts from Piedmont are really the best I’ve ever tasted—believe it”.

The pure, fresh air of these vine-covered hillsides does seem to work some kind of magic on both the flavor and texture of the nut.  And magic it could well be: the Langhe hills, topped by medieval churches and often wrapped in a mysterious fog, which fades the natural colors into soft purples and muted greens, inspired in the past many superstitions about witches’ gatherings! Of course, after the Piedmontese confectioners came up with Torrone (Italian honey nougat) and then with Gianduja (chocolate with hazelnut paste) , everybody figured out that those mysterious witches they feared must in fact be good fairies.

My personal Langhe fairy was my mother’s friend Matilde. Matilde, an elderly Piedmontese piano teacher with a formidable gift for baking, was solely responsible for turning my sugar-hating self (I did not eat dessert until age 10) into the cookie monster, and all with this easy recipe below.

Hazelnut Cocoa Tea Cookies

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes

6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 and ¼ cups flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 and ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ lb blanched (peeled) hazelnuts
  • 1 cup (or 2 sticks) butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 4 yolks
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • salt

Directions

Grind the hazelnuts in your food processor with 2 or 3 tablespoons of the confectioner’s sugar (taken from the total. The sugar absorbs the nut oil so that you don’t end up with marzipan). Sift the flour with the cocoa, and combine it with the butter – either in a stand mixer or using ice-cold hands (keep a bowl of ice nearby).

Add the ground hazelnuts, the rest of the sugar (but reserve 2 tbsps for decorating), the yolks, and a large pinch of salt, and knead into a ball. Wrap in plastic and place into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes .

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Using a cold, flour-dusted rolling pin, roll the dough on a floured surface (even better: roll between two sheets of parchment or wax paper*). When it’s about 1/3” thick, cut it into discs using a cookie cutter. Arrange the cookies about 1” apart from one another on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.

And bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and dust with the remaining confectioner’s sugar. Serve with a hot pot of black tea!

TIPS FOR ROLLING OUT A STICKY DOUGH:

• If the dough is very sticky, dust its surface with flour before placing it between the two sheets of parchment or wax paper.

• Lift the sheets out and put them back on several time, to prevent them from sticking to the dough and creating creases.

• Turn the dough over several times, so that it is rolled out evenly

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/01/31/hazelnut-cocoa-tea-cookies/

A FEW MORE IDEAS FOR COOKIES BY SOME OF MY FAVORITE BLOGGERS:
Brutti ma Buoni by AglioOlio&Peperoncino

Nutella Cookies by SundayAtTheGiacomettis

Amazing Sugar Cookies by CouldntBeParve

Margarita Cookies by SmittenKitchen

 

Surprise Holiday Chest

Surprise Holiday Chest

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From Chanukkah to Christmas and of course birthdays, most of you will have to admit that part of the fun about giving and receiving presents lies in the packaging and wrap, which add an element of mystery and surprise to any gift. They conceal the object’s shape and any writings on the box, and increase our excitement and anticipation. For the aesthetes among us, the packaging can outshine the gift (or it can be used to hide a more metaphysical content – for more on this, you can read one of my favorite children’s books, “The Gift of Nothing”).

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This rule of course applies to food, which is why chocolates seem to taste so much better when they come in a gorgeous box. The Japanese take this to the next level, cutting their vegetables into beautiful shapes and serving their kids’ school meals in lacquered bento boxes.  This probably sounds like too much work and most of us would not be willing to do it everyday, but when it comes to holiday desserts, I know that we are all willing to go the extra mile.

So here is a special edible gift that your family will love! The mascarpone mousse, which will remind you of Tiramisu, is hidden in a treasure chest made of “Croccante” (Italian almond brittle). This type of candy, popular throughout Italy around the holidays and at fun fairs, is a mixture of caramelized sugar and almonds, easy to make, and easy to eat: you can break it into pieces and serve it with coffee, give it to kids in lieu of candy, or grind it up and sprinkle it over gelato. The only problem is that once you taste it, it will be hard to stop.

Happy Holidays!

SURPRISE HOLIDAY CHEST (Scrigno di Croccante)

(For the chest)

  • 2 and 1/3 cups blanched almonds
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ cup sugar

(for the filling)

  • 2/3 pounds Mascarpone
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped or coarsely grated.
  • ½ cup sugar

Grind the almonds very coarsely in your food processor, or chop them with a knife. In a saucepan, melt the sugar on medium heat with the filtered juice of half the lemon. Yum, caramel!

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Add the almonds and keep cooking until the sugar has completely melted and has turned dark golden brown. Double-Yuml!!!

Cut a circle from parchment, about 9 ½” in diameter. Place it on top of a larger sheet of paper or foil. Now pour the caramel on top of the circle and spread it all over, it should be between 1/3” and ½” thick.

Carefully lift the circle and trasfer it onto a round 8 “ baking pan, lifting the sides and pressing them against the sides of the pan with a tablespoon dipped in lemon juice, until the caramel has molded to the shape of the pan. On a smaller disc of parchment, make a second disc of caramel (slightly less than 8″ in diameter), which will become the “lid’.

Whip the cream with an electric whisk, and combine it with the sugar, mascarpone, and amost ¾ of the chocolate. Pour into the caramel container, and top with the lid. Decorate with the rest of the chocolate, melted in a bain-marie, poured on top of parchment and cut into stars – or simply grated.  Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

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Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears (Sfogliata al Gianduja e Pere)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

The combination of hazelnuts and chocolate is wildly popular in Italy – I’m sure you have heard of Nutella!  The original version is Gianduja – a concoction made of chocolate and hazelnuts invented in Turin during the Napoleonic blockade, when the precious cocoa beans had become scarce and the famous Piedmontese chocolatiers had to find a way to make them go further-. It didn’t hurt, of course, that their hazelnuts (from the Langhe area of Piedmont) were said to be the best in the world, and that Turin was the birthplace of solid chocolate. As you can imagine, the result was much more interesting than other hard-times-inspired products (such as the French chicory “coffee”), and even after the end of the blockade the Torinese kept enjoying their new delicacy, and named it “gianduja” after a local marionette character.

Besides enjoying the tasty combo in the form of a spread or in confections (the delicious gianduiotti – the first-ever chocolates to be individually wrapped!), make sure you try my gianduja puff cake!

Ingredients

1 pound of puff pastry (home-made, or 1 package store-bought)
3 medium pears
5 ounces dark chocolate (I used 70 % Scharffen Berger) 
½ cup ground hazelnuts
6 chocolate-flavored tea biscuits, or small biscottis
2/3 cup (scant) sugar
pinch of salt
1 organic lemon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter, or hazelnut or almond oil
2 tablespoons milk (or non-dairy almond or soy milk)
flour (to dust the counter)

Directions

Peel and core the pears, slice them thinly and combine them with the lemon juice, the sugar, and the grated lemon zest. Grate the chocolate and coarsely chop the cookies. If using butter, melt it in a pan or in your microwave.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a rectangle and brush the top with the melted butter or oil; top with the crumbled cookies, the drained pears, and the grated chocolate. Roll up the pastry as if making a strudel, sealing the edges and closing the ends.
Brush the top with the yolk (mixed with a couple of tablespoons of milk or parve almond or soy milk) and bake in a pre-heated 250 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. Enjoy warm or at room temperature, on a cold winter night :-) .

Pistachio Amaretto Crostata with Chocolate and Berries

Pistachio Amaretto Crostata with Chocolate and Mixed Berries (Parve, GF)

amaretto-frutti-pesach-group.001

If you like macaroons, this indulgent and festive tart will become your favorite way to welcome Passover. If you are celiac and need to follow a gluten-free diet, you have a great excuse to make it much more often! Remember that nuts are very sticky, and it’s always best to line your baking pan with parchment.

9807 Torta cioccolato e pistacchi-HD

Pistachio Amaretto Crostata with Chocolate and Mixed Berries

Ingredients

  • CRUST
  • 1 heaped cup (6 oz) blanched pistachios or almonds
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 large beaten egg white, or a little more as necessary
  • 1/4 tbsp amaretto liqueur or almond extract
  • matzah meal for dusting (GF matzah meal for a GF version)
  • FILLING
  • 8 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate, grated (or chocolate chips)
  • 3 tablespoons almond or seed oil (or 1/2 stick margarine)
  • 2 small baskets of fresh mixed berries
  • a few tbsps of raspberry or blueberry preserve

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 9 inch springform pan with aluminum foil or parchment (you can also use a disposable aluminum pan).

Grease the parchment and the sides of the pan with margarine or oil, and dust with matzah meal.

Grind the pistachios (or almonds), then add the sugar, almond extract and salt in a food processor. Add the egg and blend.

Remove from the food processor and knead with your hands until the mix holds together (it will still be very crumbly), adding a spoonful or two more egg white if necessary.

Press the dough onto the bottom of the pan with your fingers or knuckles.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes.

Take it out of the oven and press it down quickly again with a ball of paper towel or the back of a spoon (it will be too hot to touch), trying to make it slightly concave .

Put it back in the oven and bake for another 3-4 minutes Take out again, press down again, and allow it to cool down and harden.

Remove the parchment or aluminum lining, put the crust back into the pan.

Melt the chocolate chips in a bain-marie (or in your microwave) without letting it boil or burn, and add the oil or margarine; stir until smooth, pour the mixture on top of the crust, and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs. The crust and filling can be made several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

A few hours before serving brush the chocolate top with a little preserve and arrange the fresh berries on top.

Leave out of the fridge for at least one hour before serving to make it easier to cut, and use a sharp knife.

*** Tip: this type of crust can be hard to cut, so don’t serve the cake in a delicate platter unless you pre-slice it!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/03/15/pistachio-amaretto-crostata-with-chocolate-and-mixed-berries/

Chocolate Salami – Salame Cioccolato

Chocolate Salami - Salame Cioccolato (parve)

Chocolate Salami – Salame Cioccolato 

Obviously, this is not only for Passover! Ask any Italian child and they will probably name chocolate salami as their favorite dessert, any time, anywhere.

Chocolate Salami – Salame Cioccolato (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons water (or oil, for a softer texture: almond oil or coconut oil taste best)
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate, grated (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • a few drops of vanilla or almond extract (you could also use a couple of tablespoons of a sweet liqueur such as Amaretto, but your kids will really want to eat this!)
  • 1 cup shelled walnuts, or pistachios or hazelnuts
  • 1 cup broken Passover cookies such as Mandelbrot (skip and add more nuts for GF option)
  • 2 tablespoons candied orange (optional)

Directions

Melt the chocolate with the sugar in your microwave or in a bain-marie.

Add 4 tablespoons hot water or oil and stir until smooth.

Add the cookies, nuts, liqueur or extract, candied peel.

Taste and add a couple of spoonfuls of honey if you would like it sweeter, and one or two more tablespoons hot water if it’s hard to stir.

Allow to cool. When it’s lukewarm, shape it into a salami and wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminium foil.

Let it rest in the refrigerators for at least 6 hours. About 30 minutes before serving, unwrap and cut into slices.

For a softer texture, replace the water with oil.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/04/13/chocolate-salami-salame-cioccolato-parve/

Almond Spinach Torta

Torta di spinaci e mandorle
Torta di spinaci e mandorle

Torta di spinaci e mandorle

My first encounter with this concept was in Giuliana Ascoli-Norsa’s beautiful collection “La Cucina nella Tradizione Ebraica”: I immediately loved it for its uniqueness, and because I was already partial to carrot cake. However, the original recipe used more than a pound of spinach and no potato starch or liqueur, and the result was disappointing. It wasn’t until several decades later, after I moved to the US and tried zucchini muffins, that I remembered this unusual combination and decided to try my hand at it again. This time I emailed all my friends from Tuscany (the area where this Passover dessert is supposed to have originated) to see if they could offer any variations. Unfortunately the spinach cake turned out to be a sort of culinary chimera, a mythical dessert that everybody had heard about but nobody had tasted or knew how to make (on the other hand, I did gather top-notch instructions for spinach fritters, and a sweet spinach and ricotta tart). At this point, though, I had become obsessed and decided to bring out the big guns: for four days I baked two spinach cakes a day, tweaking and fine-tuning, until I was finally happy with the result. And here you go! You might still want to keep the main ingredient a secret if your kids are picky eaters: they’d probably rather think it’s a colorant…

Spinach Almond Torta (Parve, GF, gebrokt-free)

Spinach Almond Torta (Parve, GF, gebrokt-free)

Almond Spinach Torta

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup (7 oz) blanched almonds
  • 12 oz baby spinach (2 bags)
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup almond or seed oil OR 1 ½ sticks parve Passover margarine
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons kosher for Passover anise liqueur or amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon kosher for Passover baking powder (if available)*
  • (for the icing)
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet parve chocolate (grated or chips)
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar** (optional)
  • 3/4 stick margarine
  • 1/3 cup Passover almond milk or water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • (you can also skip the icing and sprinkle with cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar)

Directions

*kosher-for-passover baking powder can be hard to find, but this year my kosher supermarket carried two different brands. The baking powder will make this cake even fluffier, but if you can’t find it the egg whites are enough to make it soft.

** Kosher for Passover Confectioner's sugar can be also hard to find, but it's easy to make by processing 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon potato starch in your food processor for at least 3 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cook the spinach for 10 minutes in a covered pot with 4-5 tablespoons of water.

Once it’s soft, drain, squeeze, diwcard the liquid (I usually line a colander with cheesecloth or paper towel, place it in my sink and press the spinach down in it with a bowl.

Grind the almonds and the spinach together finely in your food processor (I never buy ground almonds, I find that the flavor and texture are too ‘dry’: it takes seconds to grind almonds in a food processor).

Set aside and wipe the food processor, then place the egg yolks in it with the sugar and a pinch of salt and beat until foamy.

Add the spinach and almond, and the liqueur, and keep pulsing until combined.

Melt the margarine in your microwave or in a small skillet (if using oil, it does not need heating), and add to the mix. Keep pulsing and slowly add the potato starch, sifted with the Passover baking powder (if using).

Process until smooth.

Remove the batter from the food processor and pour back into the large bowl.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a handheld electric whisk until they form stiff peaks (to make this easier, I add a couple of drops of white vinegar or lemon juice to the bowl).

Incorporate the whites into the batter with a spatula, using delicate upward movements.

Pour into a 9” baking pan, lined with parchment and greased well (you can also dust it with matzo meal if you are not keeping gluten- or gebrokt-free).

Bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out almost clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack without removing from the pan.

Once cool, carefully remove from the baking pan and cover with chocolate icing, or simply dust with a mix of cocoa and confectioner’s sugar.

To make the icing,

Combine almond milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, chocolate and softened margarine.

Stir vigorously until combined and spread on the cake using a large spatula.

Decorate with rose petals or red berries, or cherries.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/04/10/almond-spinach-torta/

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds (Dairy or Parve)

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds (Dairy or Parve)

The Jewish New Year for Trees falls on the 15th of the month of Av – February 8th this year. There is a wide-spread custom of eating several different kinds of fruit, mindfully and in a specific order (the ‘seder’), with the idea that they symbolize different aspects of the world – which we need to understand in order to come closer to God. This custom originated in Isaac Luria’s  Kabbalistic circles in old Safed, and was first described in detail in the manual ”Pri Etz Hadar,” [“The Fruit of the Majestic Tree”], published in Venice in 1728. Not only was Venice one of the main centers of Jewish learning and Hebrew printing at the time, but also of the kabbalistic movement. While several authorities condemned the pamphlet (kabbalah was wide-spread, but still quite controversial!), it continued to be widely circulated and published. Fast-forward to our time: many Jews all over the world still celebrate this ancient agricultural festival by gathering a bunch of friends and family together, and serving as many different fruits as possible, making sure to include the 12 fruits “of Israel”, to which we attribute a symbolic meaning. And of course there are cups of wine, and it all ends with great desserts! Try this cake, which incorporates two of the symbolic fruits: dates and almonds.

Chocolate Cake with Dates and Almonds (Dairy or Parve)

Ingredients

  • Dough:
  • 2 (scant) cups sifted pastry flour or all-purpose
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 heaped tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 stick of butter or margarine, or 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 large egg
  • Filling:
  • 3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2/3 stick butter or margarine, or 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cup coarsely ground toasted almonds
  • 1 heaped cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 coffee spoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cups pitted dates

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the sifted flour with the cocoa powder, 4 tablespoons warm water, salt, sugar, and the butter or margarine, softened and cut into pieces.

Knead and shape into a ball, cover it and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.

In the meantime, Prepare the filling: grind the dates, and melt the chocolate in the microwave with the butter (or margarine, or oil).

Add the powdered sugar, ground almonds, dates, and cinnamon.

Combine well and allow to cool.

Roll the dough into a thin rectangle over a large sheet of plastic wrap or parchment; brush the top with melted butter and spread with the filling.

Roll the dough over the filling helping yourself with the plastic wrap, then shape this “salami” into a ring and arrange it into a baking pan (previously lined with parchment, or greased and floured) . Brush with a little more butter or oil, and bake for 350 F in a preheated oven for about one hour. Serve cold, dusted with cinnamon, cocoa and powdered sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/02/01/chocolate-cake-with-dates-and-almonds-dairy-or-parve/