Tag Archives: hazelnuts

Brutti ma buoni, mark II

On plate 3

Considering brutti ma buoni – Italian “ugly but good” – cookies are basically just made of nuts, egg white and sugar, methods of making them are surprisingly varied. How much albumen? How much sugar? Grind the nuts? All of them? How fine? Leave some whole? Whisk the egg whites? Cook the mixture in a pan? Include some cocoa? Never mind the question of using almonds.

The first recipe I tried was from the American Academy in Rome’s Biscotti book. They were good, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied. It’s taken me this long to get round to trying a different recipe. I thought I’d better try an actual Italian one, direct from an Italian source.

One of the biggest, perhaps the biggest, Italian recipe site is Giallo Zafferano (“Yellow Saffron”). When googling Italian recipes you may well get prompted to visit there first. Although I’m gathering other recipes, I thought why not start here? So here’s a tweaked, reduced translation of their recipe. The original makes “about 70” cookies, which seems excessive for domestic consumption – unless you’ve got a very big family that loves hazelnut meringuey things.

Even if you don’t speak Italian, it’s worth checking out the site for the pics of the procedure.

Makes about a dozen.

200g whole, skin-on hazelnuts
20g water
25g caster sugar
1/2 t honey
35g egg white (ie the white of one egg, more or less)
90g icing sugar

On tray

1. Gently roast the hazelnuts, at about 150C, until they’re starting to brown. Remnove but keep the oven on.
2. Rub the hazelnuts in a tea towel (which I believe you US lot call a “dish towel”) or cloth to remove the skins. Don’t agonise if a little bit stays stuck.
3. Divide the nuts in two, and coarsely grind half of them in a food processor.
4. In a pan, warm the water and caster sugar until the latter dissolves, then stir in the honey and allow to cool slightly.
5. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg white to peaks.
6. Slowly pour in the syrup, whisking constantly.
7. Keep whisking for another few minutes or so (the original recipe says 10, but this seems excessive), then sieve in the icing sugar.
8. Keep whisking for another few minutes. You’ve basically got a meringue mix.
9. Add the ground nuts, then the remaining, whole, nuts and fold to combine.
10. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment, then dollop dessertspoonfuls onto it, leaving space between for the cookies to flow and expand a bit while baking.
11. Bake at 150C for about 12 minutes, until they’ve coloured slightly or as the original puts it, until they’ve achieved “un colore leggermente dorato” (“a lightly golden colour”). Which seems a bit misleading, as egg while plus hazelnut doesn’t really equal golden. It’s more a pale brown.
12. Cool. I actually left mine to cool in the oven, turned off, as you would meringues.

The result is very nice, note unlike some hazelnut meringues I remember my mother making on occasion when I was a nipper. I still don’t think this is quite the perfect brutti ma buoni recipe though, so I’ll try another soon, specifically one that uses the technique where the mixture is cooked first before baking, drying it out more. Onwards, bakers!


Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Recipes

Pine nut cheesecake, or cheesecake della nonna

Pine nut cheesecake, cheesecake della nonna

If you’re in a Roman restaurant and they offer you desert, it’s quite likely you’ll encounter torta della Nonna – that is “Grandma’s tart” or “Grandma’s cake”. I’m not sure about the labour laws, but all this pudding-making must keep granny pretty busy.

Sources vary, but torta della nonna is either a Florentine or a Ligurian dish. Though surely any nonna has her own torta? There are variations, but most commonly in Rome it’s a tart made with a sweet pastry crust and a filling based on custard and/or ricotta. Its defining feature is pine nuts, pinoli.

This post isn’t, however, about torta della nonna. As I had some leftover cookies that had been smashed on their journey to and from the park for a picnic on Sunday, I thought I’d make a cheesecake with a della nonna twist: ie, with the addition of pine nuts.

A note on the cookies
I made some cornmeal cookies – they were basically like a digestive, but with a slightly different crunch, and a few spices (cinnamon, ginger). They worked well, but you can use whatever biscuits you like: digestives are most typical for UK cheesecakes, US recipes use graham crackers. My friend Juli-from-Jersey said the cornmeal cookies reminded her of snickerdoodles, though they’re cookies with a name so ridiculous I can’t quite bring myself to discuss them.

I won’t include the cornmeal cookies recipe, but will say digestives are so easy to make you don’t need to reach for some plastic-wrapped stuff from a factory. I’ve included a simple recipe at the bottom of this post. If you do use this recipe, I’d add some cinnamon and ginger to the crumb base mix.

A note on the candied peel
Only use your own candied peel, or other hand-made stuff. Don’t use that yucky sticky stuff you get in tubs from the supermarket. Peel is easy to make. Honest. Just Google it, if you’ve not tried before. I’m still using some of my candied-vodka-infused-kumquats-from-the-garden-peel.

A note on cheeses
Often, cheesecake recipes will just say “cream cheese” in the ingredient list. It’s a bit vague. Though perhaps it doesn’t matter what cream cheese, as a baked cheesecake mixture seems pretty forgiving. Here I used mascarpone and robiola. The latter could be replaced with something like Philadelphia, if you really had to. You could also do, say, half-half mascarpone and ricotta. I might try that next time as you can get stupendous fresh ricotta here in Roma.

Pine nut cheesecake slice, cheesecake della nonna

40g hazelnuts
120g cookies/biscuits like digestives
60g butter

Cheesy bit:
250g mascarpone
200g robiola
2 eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
100g caster sugar
30g candied peel
60g pine nuts

To serve:
30g pine nuts
Icing sugar

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
2. Toast the hazelnuts until starting to brown.
3. Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fairly fine, then add the cookies and grind to a medium crumb.
4. Melt the butter in a pan, then combine with the hazelnuts and cookie crumbs.
5. Push the crumb mix into the bottom of a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
6. Combine the cheeses, eggs, sugar, and zest, blending well by hand or with a handheld zizzer.
7. Finely chop the candied peel and add to the cheese mix, along with the pine nuts.
8. Pour the cheese mix onto the crumb base.
9. Bake for around 50-60 mins until the top is browning and even cracking slightly, and firm to the touch.
10. Remove the sides of the tin, and leave to cool completely.
11. When the cake is cool, toast the extra pine nuts and sprinkle on top, dusting the whole lot with icing sugar.
12. You could serve it with some whipped cream, for added deliciousness. We didn’t as it’s hard to get nice cream here in Roma, despite the cornucopia of other wonderful dairy products.

Extra! Free! Digestive biscuits recipe
90g butter
120g wholemeal flour
120g oatmeal
40g caster sugar
Pinch salt
Pinch baking soda
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 200C.
2. Rub butter into flour, stir in the rest and bind with beaten egg.
3. Roll and cut out rounds.
4. Prick with a fork.
5. Put on baking sheet, sprinkle with oatmeal and bake in a hot oven till browned.


Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Cakes, Pies & tarts, Puddings & desserts, Recipes