It's 'Wichcraft...

With a year of planning mostly forgotten in my unbridled zeal to outdo myself when it comes to the Cookie Bonanza, I decided to add one final cookie to my lineup. This one, at least, was rooted in one of my perceived shortcomings regarding last years assortment -- a lack of sandwich cookies. I wanted to do a Nutella-themed sandwich cookie last year, in keeping with the cashew caramel Linzer-style cookies I made back in 2009, but I ran out of time. When I spotted these gianduja-inspired sandwich cookies in one of my cookie anthology magazines last week, I knew they were the recipe I'd been dreaming about since last year, and that their time had come.

To save time, I picked up some blanched, skinned hazelnuts from the same suburban grocery store where I finally found pepitas for the mole biscotti, and I set about my merry way. Not unlike the last time I made Linzer-style cookies, I found the dough rather difficult to work with -- it must be the nature of this kind of treat. Not only did the dough crumble like mad (I only got six to come out with their windows intact), they also proved very susceptible to burning. I baked the first batch for less time than stated in the recipe, and when I returned to check on them, they were practically black. I had to throw them away, and I checked the next batch even earlier, finding that they were not yet done. After another minute in the oven, they too were largely burnt. My oven isn't running hot, as proven by all the other cookies I baked this weekend, so I can only fault the cookie dough for being overly sensitive; I watched the remaining batches like a hawk.

The cookies turned out crisp, but somewhat nondescript in terms of flavor. Instead, the standout item in these cookies was the homemade gianduja filling, a spin on the eponymous Italian hazelnut chocolate confection. It took some effort to make homemade hazelnut butter and combine it with melted dark and milk chocolate, but the filling was really delicious, even more so than Nutella itself. I would eat that filling on bread, or other cookies, or just straight off a knife. It was that good.

As a result, I'd consider making the gianduja filling again, but I'll keep looking for a workable dough recipe. With all the effort they require, Linzer-style sandwich cookies are going to remain a holiday-only cookie in my repertoire, but as soon as I find a better dough, I predict a delicious recipe mash-up in my future...

Gianduja Sandwich Cookies
adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine

1 c. plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
5 oz. skinned hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
13 1/2 oz, unbleached all-purpose flour, mixed with a pinch of salt
1 recipe Gianduja Cookie Filling, recipe follows

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until fluffy, about two minutes. Add the sugar and beat until well-blended. Add the ground hazelnuts and mix well. Stop occasionally to scrape down the bowl.
2. Add the egg yolks, 1 at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Mix in the vanilla, and add the flour in 2-3 batches, blending well, but not over-mixing. Divide the dough, shaping into two thick disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least three hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 375, and line baking sheet with parchment. Roll out the dough on a surface dusted with powdered sugar, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out 2 inch disks, and cut windows into half of the cookies. Reroll the scraps until all the dough has been used.
4. Bake 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Gianduja Cookie Filling

3 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 oz. milk chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. hazelnut butter, recipe follows

Melt all of the chocolate together, either in a double boiler or the microwave. In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat until just below the boiling point. Stir the chocolate into the cream with a spatula until very smooth. Stir in the hazelnut butter until well-blended. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until thick but not stiff, about 2 hours.

Hazelnut Butter

4 oz. skinned hazelnuts, toasted
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Put the nuts in the food processor; add the oil and pulse a few times. Then process, checking the consistency every few seconds, until the texture resembles that of wet sand, 1-2 minutes.

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