One of my guilty pleasures (although I feel more sly than guilty) is borrowing teetering stacks of cookbooks from my local library. (Clearly, I live a really wild life.) Usually I peruse them for new ideas and inspiration, like interesting flavor combinations or creative photography. It’s also helpful to be able to scope out any cookbooks, both old and newly published, that intrigue me, so I can decide if I like them enough to buy. So went the story about a year ago, when I came upon Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma. I briefly thumbed through it, but quickly was disappointed to find few photographs. Still, having heard positive feedback about the book, I immediately checked it out, with the noble intentions of examining it thoroughly at home. Unfortunately, I had been completely spoiled by glossy, full-page photos of every recipe in a cookbook. At home, Dolce Italiano laid unloved, slipped to the bottom of the pile, while the more visually attractive of my loot from the library were eagerly browsed. There were too few photos to entice the five-year-old kid in me, and once I returned it, I forgot about it until a few weeks ago. Like I had done many times before, I was scanning the cookbooks at my library for any standouts, when suddenly, like last year, Dolce Italiano jumped out at me. A lightbulb immediately went off in my mind as I recalled my previous experience with the book. Undaunted, I enthusiastically grabbed it off the shelf, this time intent on finding enticing Italian sweets within. It didn’t take much searching to find something intriguing; everything sounded like a snazzy Italian café menu item. I finally settled on these bittersweet chocolate and hazelnut cookies. I wasn’t disappointed. The first bite of these satisfying cookies was enough to convince me that there must be more gems hidden within this cookbook, even if they are picture-less. Bittersweet Chocolate and Hazelnut Cookies (biscotti di cioccolato a nocciole)
adapted from Dolce Italino
These aren’t like sugar-bomb American cookies; they’re dark and intensely chocolatey, complex, and just slightly sweet, but so good. The hazelnuts add a rich toastiness to the mix, while the chopped chocolate melts into the cookie to enhance the cocoa powder. Don’t skip the dusting of powdered sugar; it’s a fun touch and adds a welcome sweetness. Although the cookies are crumbly, they aren’t dry at all. They’d be perfect with both a glass of milk or a steaming cup of coffee.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks/8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
heaping 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped*
3/4 cups powdered sugar, for dusting
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with an handheld electric mixer, cream together the butter and granulated sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture on low speed and mix until just combined. Stir in chocolate and hazelnuts. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325°F with the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or grease with butter or nonstick cooking spray.
Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into a 1-inch ball. Roll the cookie in powdered sugar to completely coat it, and place it on the baking sheet. Flatten the cookie a little with your fingertips to form a disc. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.
Bake the cookies until they are puffy and the tops crackle, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to baking racks to cool completely. If desired, re-roll cookies in more powdered sugar.
Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week, if you can resist them for that long.
*Toasting hazelnuts: Roast whole hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer in a 350° F oven until some skins are cracking and peeling off and the hazelnuts are golden, about 12-15 minutes. If desired, rub warm hazelnuts in a paper towel or kitchen towel to remove some of the papery skins (not all will come off). Chop the hazelnuts into small to medium pieces.
Variation: A fun twist on this recipe would be to make them espresso bittersweet chocolate and hazelnut cookies. Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder to the dry ingredients and proceed with the recipe as directed.