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

 

Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style – by Jayne Cohen

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Today I have a very special surprise for you: a guest post by my friend Jayne Cohen, a food writer and expert whose passion for Italy and its cuisine should earn her an honorary Italian passport. Among many other accomplishments, Jayne is the author of one of my most treasured cookbooks, Jewish Holiday Cooking, which includes 200 tasteful, elegant and special recipes for the holidays. My personal favorite is her hamantaschen with dates and pistachios (yum!).

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Visit her blog, Beyond Brisket, on JWI Magazine! For Hanukkah, Jayne is sharing her version of Italian Fried Chicken, and her memories of Casale Monferrato: enjoy!

A Hanukkah Story from Casale Monferrato

Text and recipe adapted from Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations by Jayne Cohen(print and e-book, John Wiley & Sons)

Like most travelers, we were lured by the taste of Barolo, the scent of truffles and extraordinary hazelnuts, but what we will remember most about Piedmont is the synagogue we found in Casale Monferrato.

The small Jewish community in Casale, located about fifty miles east of Turin, most likely began with the refugees Ferdinand and Isabella expelled from Spain in 1492. Although there were periods of crisis and some restrictions, life under the Italian Gonzaga dukes was relatively calm for the Jews, even prosperous for some. The synagogue was built in 1595.

But when the French House of Savoy annexed the district, conditions quickly deteriorated. In 1745, Jews were crowded into a ghetto around the synagogue. Contacts between Jews and Catholics were limited, and at night they were strictly forbidden. Not until 1848 were the Jews of Piedmont granted full rights.

Now there are no longer enough Jews to make a minyan in Casale, except on the High Holidays, when Jews from other communities attend the services.

From the narrow little street, La Sinagoga degli Argenti looked  like one of the apartment buildings, but inside was one of the most exquisite synagogues we have ever seen. It was late afternoon in July, and light filtered through the windows of the sanctuary highlighting for us the subtle pastels, gilded carved symbols, and gold filigree work. Our guide–who like one we had had years ago in Venice, was not Jewish but extremely knowledgeable about the synagogue and Jewish life–pointed out the beautifully painted ceiling, a fresco of sky and clouds, whose panels announce in four Hebrew words, “This is the Gate to Heaven.”

There is also an impressive museum, showcasing art and furnishings acquired from other Piedmont congregations, antique dealers, and private collections, and life-size dioramas of many of the holidays. The basement of the museum, where matzoh once was baked for all the Jews of the Monferrato region, now houses the Museum of Lights, a remarkable collection of menorahs.

The Hanukkah story of the tiny flame that produced a lasting light is the story of Jewish continuity, and the Jewish community of Casale has adopted it as its own. The museum commissions new hanukkiyot from renowned contemporary artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, who, in the museum’s words, “form a bridge between the lights of the past, which must never go out, and those of the future, which must continue to be lit.” One menorah is formed of two sculpted hands, the thumbs entwined to form the shamash, the flames shooting up from the fingertips; another was inspired by the notes people insert into the cracks of the Western Wall.

In the courtyard, our guide told us that for the past several years, the synagogue has invited members of all the other monotheistic faiths in the area when Hanukkah begins. Another Hanukkah story–a miracle too, perhaps–that has particular resonance for Casale.

For it would be dark, of course, when the Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and Jews gathered to light the menorah candles here between the elegant colonnaded courtyard columns–where once upon a time any contact between Jews and Gentiles after nightfall would have been prohibited.

“Hanukkah,” as Antonio Recalcati, one of the Catholic menorah artists has said, “celebrates life and light after centuries of darkness.”

Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style

”The logs of Jerusalem were of the cinnamon tree, and when lit, their fragrance pervaded the whole of Erez Israel.”–Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat

Jews have appreciated sweet-smelling cinnamon since ancient times. Centuries later in Europe even poor Jews usually had access to the spice: inhaling its heady aroma was central to the Havdalah ceremony that ushered out their Sabbath every week.

This fried chicken lightly flavored with cinnamon is a traditional Hanukkah specialty in Italy. Used without any sweetening, the cinnamon acts in concert here with savory garlic and lemon to produce a very fragrant yet subtle marinade. Because of the Havdalah connection, it makes an especially lovely main course on the Saturday night that occurs during Hanukkah week.

To accentuate the delicacy of the dish, I dip the chicken in egg after dusting it lightly with matzoh meal. And I fry each batch with a few pieces of celery–a trick sent in to Cook’s Illustrated magazine by one of its readers–which makes the chicken beautifully golden and more flavorful.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for frying
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken cutlets, trimmed of fat and gristle
  • About 1 cup matzoh meal (use commercially ground–you’ll need a very fine, powdery consistency here)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, including leaves, washed, dried well, and cut into 4- to 5-inch lengths
  • Accompaniment: lemon wedges
  • Optional garnish: parsley sprigs

In a large bowl or nonreactive baking dish, whisk together the cinnamon, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and marinate for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator, turning the chicken occasionally. Or marinate the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag.

Set up a work station near the stove. Spread 1 cup matzoh meal on a large sheet of wax paper or a plate and season it with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Next to it, in a wide shallow bowl or pie pan, beat the eggs with a few drops of water until well blended and smooth.

Dredge the cutlets well with the matzoh meal, rubbing it lightly into the chicken. Make sure each cutlet is covered all over with meal. If necessary, add more matzoh meal, remembering to add more seasoning.

Heat about 1/2 cup olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot and fragrant but not smoking. Shake a cutlet to remove all excess matzoh meal, then coat it thoroughly with the egg and slip it quickly into the hot oil. Being careful not to crowd the pan, add more chicken, dipping each piece in the egg just before placing it in the pan. Slip a few pieces of celery in between the cutlets as they fry. Using two spatulas (tongs would ruin the delicate egg coating), carefully turn the chicken when it is light golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Sauté the other side for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until cooked through. Turn the celery pieces when you turn the chicken. Transfer the cutlets to a platter lined with paper towels so they can drain. Discard the cooked celery. Keep the chicken warm in a 200 degree F oven until the remaining pieces are done. Continue frying any remaining chicken in batches, in the same way, adding fresh celery to the pan with each batch. Wipe out the skillet and replace the oil if some of the coating falls off and burns.

Serve the chicken right away, accompanied by the lemon wedges and garnished, if you’d like, with fresh parsley. It really needs no sauce.

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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 :-) .