Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Cookie of 1000 Disguises - Oregon Coffee Nuts

Russian Tea Cakes or would that be Mexican Wedding Cookies? Maybe Southern Pecan Butterballs? Polvorones? How about Swedish Tea Cakes, Italian Butter Nuts, Snowdrops, Viennese Sugar Balls, Sand Tarts, Melting Moments or Snowballs? Any of those sound familiar?  How about Almond Crescents, Danish Almond Cookies (Mandelsmørboller) or Finnish Butter Strips?

You may recognize several of the above names.  I myelf am familiar with Melting Moments, Almond Crescents and Snowballs.  And while it's true that the last three in the above list have a little more to do with the final shape of the cookies, which helps to distinguish them slightly, they are all basically the same cookie whose history runs all the way back to the Moorish invasion of Spain.

Oh, there are slight differences... Mexican wedding cookies sometimes have cinnamon mixed in with the confectioners' sugar that they are rolled in, and I think they are made with Almonds.  Russian Tea cakes seem to be made primarily with Walnuts. (though that may not necessarily be true)  Almond Crescents are crescent shaped instead of round little balls.  I assume that "Southern Pecan Butterballs" are made with Pecans. ;)  Bringing me to what seems to be the general rule of thumb -- "If you change the nuts, change the shape, or add a spice to the dusting sugar, you get to give it a new name"  LOL

Thus, since I am using Oregon Hazelnuts, I am dubbing these..... Oregon Coffee Nuts (We drink more coffee than tea 'round these parts.  As a bonus to today's recipe, I am going to walk you through blanching a Hazelnut.  There are a billion posts out on the net "labeled" as blanching that involve actually toasting the nuts in the oven and rubbing the skins off with a towel....  MESSY!
I spend weeks sweeping Hazelnut skins off my kitchen floor every single time I do it that way, not to mention the multiple launderings to get the skin bits out of the towel. 

Blanching by definition involves boiling water, not an oven.  Thus, one must drop said nuts into boiling water for a certain amount of time, then shock them with cold water.  When it comes to nuts, it is best to add a little Baking Soda to the blanching water.  Baking Soda will break down the cellulose in the skins and make peeling that much easier.  No messy towels.  Woo Hoo!!!

Oregon Coffee Nuts

2 Quarts of Water
2 TB Baking Soda
1 cup (8 oz) (227g) Unsalted Cultured Butter
1/2 cup (1.9 oz) (55g) Confectioners' Sugar (Plus a lot more for rolling the cookies)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (or Bean Caviar)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
2 1/4 cups (11.3 oz) (320 g) AP Flour
3/4 cup (3.5 oz) (100g) finely ground Toasted Hazelnuts

Bring 2 quarts of water, laced with 2 TB Baking Soda, to a boil. (The Baking Soda breaks down the cellulose structure of the skins, allowing them to slough off)

Drop hazelnuts into the water and boil for 5 minutes.

(The water is going to turn a REALLY weird purplish-brown color from the tannin in the skinsI know the season is past, but you can dye Easter eggs with it, I'm just sayin)

Drain and shock the nuts with cold water; so much for skins. (though you may still need to do a little rubbing, but they slide right off)

And while I never look forward to cleaning the strainer afterward,

I love having nice clean Hazelnuts.  (The roasting, peeling in a towel thing NEVER works this well)

Now place the nuts in a single layer on a sheet pan.

Roast at 350 for 8 - 10 minutes. (just until they start to brown)

Set nuts aside to cool; then chop finely. (do not throw them in a chopper while warm or you will have "hazelnut butter" in 2 pulses, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but will not assist you well in the formation of these cookies)

In a large bowl beat the Butter and Kosher Salt until light.

Add Confectioners' Sugar and Vanilla.

Beat on low speed of mixer about 1 minute, until fluffy.

Gradually add flour at low speed until just combined

Stir in the finely chopped nuts.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls (.5 oz) (15g); (I use a small cookie scoop) and place about 1 inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350 F for 12-14 minutes, though my old oven baked them in 10 minutes, until firm to the touch but not actually browned. (careful, cause they burn very quickly on the bottom)

Meanwhile, prep a storage bag by dumping copious quantities of confectioners' Sugar therein.

You wioll also want to set waxed paper underneath your cooling rack to catch any wayward sugar that falls off the cookies.

While still warm, roll the cookies in the bag full of Confectioners' Sugar. (I do 4 at a time)

Set on a cooling rack.

Save the Confectioners' Sugar in the bag, because you will need it again.....

Before serving, re-roll in powdered sugar.

Enjoy with a nice cup of coffee..... or tea (as is implied by about 1/2 of the names under which this cookie is known)  ;)



Patti T. said...

Never made these with hazelnuts but these are one of my most favorite cookies in the world.

Bob said...

I've never been a big fan of the almond version of these, but I bet with hazelnuts I'd be all of it.

Also, that's a much easier way to skin hazelnuts than what I was doing.