This past Sunday, I experienced one of Pittsburgh's greatest wonders -- the annual Joy of Cookies tour. Oh yes, dear readers, it's exactly what you think it is! For a few days, businesses in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville each feature a different cookie, handing out samples and the accompanying recipe to holiday shoppers. This little walking tour encompasses one of my favorite hobbies: snacking while shopping. I think I can speak for my friends when I say that we had so much fun! Strolling, nibbling on cookies, and catching up with the newly-engaged (!) and just-back-from-the-honeymoon (!) as a few flurries fell from the sky -- hello, a perfect December afternoon!
But, such a confectionary adventure reacquainted me with one of my cardinal dessert rules: Just because it's pretty, doesn't mean it tastes good. A prime example of this is the smooth fondant that covers many cakes now. If you haven't tasted it, let me do you a favor and tell you that it tastes like Play-Doh smells -- awful. The cakes are gorgeous, sure, but even the bakers of them instruct eaters to discard the smooth stuff. Give me a rustically iced cake any day over a seamless tower of cake layers. But this theory of mine isn't limited to cakes...
Pies certainly fall under this umbrella (oozing pies are the best, actually), as do muffins, and especially cookies. I can recall countless cookies eaten at holiday parties and church coffee hours that were covered in colorful sprinkles and icings and generally tasted like cardboard. And, of course, my parents wouldn't let me discretely spit out said bland mass into a napkin. They unintentionally forced me to learn that lesson. Twenty years later, I'm still weary of thumbprint cookies. I haven't yet had one that didn't taste like, well, nothing.
Well, I don't normally like to be proven wrong, but this cookie gladly has me waving a white flag. A cookie can have beauty and taste! Who knew? The sugary cracked edges that hug the striped chocolatey
And the cookies are just as delicious as they are pleasing to the eye. The mild chocolate and hazelnut flavor really shines without being overwhelming. Even non-chocoholics love these... I'm talking to you, male friends of mine. So, make a batch of these soon and know that they'll be the star of an assorted cookie tray at your next holiday party or office function. No rescue napkin necessary :)
One Year Ago: Lentil and sweet potato stew
Chocolate Hazelnut Smooches
(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)
-makes 28-30 cookies
A few notes: First, regarding the sugar coating for the cookies, I have used orange and purple around Halloween, red and green at Christmas, and white for everyday occasions. It's up to you! Also, feel free to deviate from the type of Kiss placed on top of the cookie. When I'm not using colored sugar, I like the added color the hugs give to the cookie. If using regular or even dark kisses, I'd recommend placing the kisses on the candies on the cookies and returning them to the oven for an additional minute (no longer!), just to set the chocolate.
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread, i.e. Nutella (about half of a small jar)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup colored sanding sugar (white granulated is fine, too)
1 9-ounce package Hershey's Kisses (the flavor is your choice), unwrapped
Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the Nutella, butter, and both sugars, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and egg and blend until incorporated. Stir in the dry ingredients, just until no flour is visible.
Chill dough in fridge for 15 minutes, just to make handling easier. Shape the cookie dough into walnut-sized balls (a cookie scoop is a great help). Roll the dough balls in colored or sanding sugar, pressing gently to adhere. Place the cookies on a heavy cookie sheet about 4 inches apart (cookies will spread a good bit). Bake 10 to 12 minutes until cookie is just set.
Remove cookies from the oven and, using a spatula, quickly transfer each cookie to a cooling rack and immediately top each with a Kiss centered on top, pushing down slightly to secure chocolate. Cool cookies completely. (Be careful not to touch candy on cookies, for it will warm slightly and need to cool -- I left mine out for the afternoon to cool completely.)
This last part is trial and error, so do what works for you and your oven! Any super droopy mistakes can be eaten... and thank goodness I did, because my big cooling rack was perfectly full :)