Friday, December 18, 2015

Chocolate Cinnamon & Hazelnut Thumbprints

If we're talking about the pairing of chocolate and nuts, it’s no secret that my favorite is the magical gianduia, Italian for the luxurious marriage of chocolate and hazelnuts.  Although I do love all the combinations, there’s something about the unique quality of toasted hazelnuts that pairs particularly beautifully with dark chocolate. 

For me, these Chocolate Cinnamon & Hazelnut Thumbprint cookies are the mother lode of the fabulous wonder of chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and hazelnuts. There is superb deep cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon flavors co-mingling and a wonderful counterpoint of different textures.  There's a decent level of sugar that isn't too sweet or cloying and a dollop of chocolate that adds to the luxury.  The cookies are crispy on the outside, tender and chewy on the inside, a wealth of pleasure.  Perfect for the holidays, although I wouldn’t even consider filing this recipe away once December is in our rear view mirror.  These cookies are meant to be enjoyed throughout the year, whenever you feel like delighting your palate and treating yourself to something pretty sublime.  

My cookies didn’t come out nearly as beautiful as the Epicurious photo because I somehow forgot to roll the cookies in the cinnamon sugar before baking.  But I did try to remedy that just a wee bit by rolling them in the sugar before filling with chocolate to get the right sensation of flavor.  Please do make a point to remember to roll in the sugar because all of the garnishes - the sugar, cinnamon, chocolate and finely chopped hazelnuts - each in their own way contribute magically and significantly to the final product.

If you’re a lover of the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts like me, don’t hesistate to make this cookie.  It’s not difficult and the reward is the stuff of cookie dreams.  By which I mean, heaven.

Here’s to your happy season of baking!

Bench notes:
- Toasting nuts brings out the oil and heightens their flavor. Toast hazelnuts in a 350 degree F oven for about 7 - 8 minutes.  Watch them closely as they will taste bitter if they are left too long.  Remove from the oven and wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel and let them steam for about 1 minute.  Rub them in the towel to remove any loose skins (don't worry about the bits of skin still clinging) and let cool.
- Use natural cocoa powder, not dutched.
- 1 tablespoon may seem like a ton of vanilla but it is perfect!
- The original instructions call for mixing in the conventional way: creaming butter and sugar, adding the egg, then the dries.  I decided to mix mine in a food processor, so this is my method:  Place 1/2 cup hazelnuts, flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground.  Cut 8 oz cold butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the bowl.  Process until the butter is well incorporated.  Add the egg and vanilla and process until the mixture forms clumps around the center of the machine and holds together when pinched.
- I use a #40 ice cream scoop to portion the cookie dough.
- After baking, I use the small end of a melon baller to create the wells.  Rather than pushing straight down into the warm cookies, I pressed down gently, rocking the utensil back and forth to prevent the warm cookies from cracking excessively.
- The recipe calls for semisweet (62%) for the chocolate garnish but I used bittersweet (72%).  I just used a teaspoon to drizzle the chocolate into the wells of each cookie.
- Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 1 week.
- There’s a how-to video of the recipe available from Epicurious.

Chocolate Cinnamon & Hazelnut Thumbprints
adapted from Epicurious
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Cookie Dough
1/2 cup (2.5 oz) toasted hazelnuts   
2 cups (10 oz) flour                                                
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) cocoa powder                         
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                                                           
1/2 teaspoon salt                                                   
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon                    
8 oz (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
1 cup (7 oz) sugar                                                  
1 large egg                                                                                                                          
1 tablespoon vanilla                                              

Sugar Garnish
1/2 cup sugar                              
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Finishing Garnish
2 tablespoons (3/4 oz) toasted hazelnuts
4 oz (about 2/3 cup) semisweet chocolate  [I used bittersweet]
2 oz (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

Grind 1/2 cup hazelnuts until finely ground.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Beat 8 oz butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy, about 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until thoroughly blended.  Reduce to low speed and add the dry ingredients, beating just until thoroughly mixed.  Portion the dough into heaping tablespoons and roll into balls.  Place on a baking sheet and chill until the oven is ready.

Preheat to 350 degrees F.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment or silpats.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl.  Roll the cookie balls in the mixture and place them 2" apart on the baking sheets.

Bake until puffed and set but still moist, about 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.
Remove from the oven and immediately make an indentation in the center of each cookie with the small end of a melon baller or the bottom of a rounded measuring teaspoon.  Place the pans on a wire rack and cool completely.
Finely chop remaining 2 tablespoons hazelnuts and set aside.

Finely chop the chocolate and melt with the remaining 2 oz butter in a small heatproof bowl over a barely simmering water bath or at 10-second intervals in a microwave, stirring often, until melted.  Fill the wells of each cookie with the chocolate and immediately garnish with the reserved nuts.  Set the cookies aside until the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes. 


SallyBR said...

I also love gianduia, not when I was growing up, though - it was for me an acquired taste. Now I could enjoy this flavor on a daily basis...

first time I made thumbprint cookies was from your recipe, and now you tempt me again with another one ;-)

Hope you will have a great weekend!

pastry studio said...

Hey, Sally, just doing my job! Now that we've established that you're a very good baker, these may not prove enough of a challenge. Heh.

I hope you're having a really lovely holiday season. Here's to wonderful morsels on our table!!

SallyBR said...

You are the sweetest..... ;-)

Catering Wassenaar said...

Need to make these immediately! My mouth is watering!