All my loved ones know that for the last nine years I have been 100% Christmas Cookie Crazy. There was research and there were spreadsheets. I’d spend hours upon hours making dough and freezing it; then hours upon hours baking as close to Christmas as possible so that the cookies would be given at peak freshness. People loved them and the more they raved, the more encouraged I was to make and give more. (I really hope that people weren’t just being nice, because now we’ve been dragged into a vicious cycle.)
James even made this video last year to prepare everyone for the baked goodness:
When James and I started dating, he valiantly, like the good new boyfriend he was, offered to help me make the cookies. You’d think that would have made things easier but no, it just added to my fervor. Think of what we could accomplish with TWO sets of hands?! Mwhahahahaha!!!
The craze reached a fever pitch last year. It was year 8 that I had been making hundreds of Christmas cookies and I really went overboard – I made over 400 cookies. I kept convincing myself that I hadn’t made enough and started new batches or added another kind of cookie to the collection. I exhausted myself to the point that it wasn’t fun anymore. I felt incredibly sick and miserable during the romantic, and expensive, dinner out that we had planned. (It didn’t help that I also had gallstones at the time and didn’t know it…) And while the cookies did go over well, there were leftovers. There was cookie fatigue. It was obvious that I had gone to far.
And so to prevent James from leaving me, I told our families that I would not be giving cookies as gifts this year, because it was simply too difficult for me. This year, we’re giving out salted caramels and hot cocoa mix. Hopefully blog posts about those to follow!
However, I simply couldn’t let the season go by without making any cookies at all so I decided to make, bake and freeze two batches of cookies to share with our families. The smells, chills and sounds of Christmas just engage something inside me that tells me I must bake! And what do you know – I’m enjoying it again and experimenting in the kitchen. Behold – Chocolate-Hazelnut Sables.
Adapated quite a bit from Bon Appetit’s Chocolate-Pistachio Sables
- 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) salted butter, room temperature
- 1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, “bloomed” in 7 TBL of hot water
- 1 TBL vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1 cup unsalted, roasted hazelnuts, crushed with a mallet
- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
The dough needs to chill for at least four hours before you slice into cookies, so the procedure for these cookies comes in two parts.
Making the dough:
- Put 1 cup hazelnuts in a gallon plastic bag. Seal while pressing out all the air you can. With a mallet, rolling pin or even a bowl, whack those hazelnuts until they’ve broken into smaller chunks. Resist the urge to take out all your Christmas frustration and pulverize the suckers – you want small chunks, not dust!
- Add 1 cup of chocolate chips to the hazelnuts bag and set aside for later.
- Cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, about four minutes.
- Add flour, salt and baking soda and mix to combine.
- Combine cocoa powder with hot water, adding one TBL at a time and stirring until smooth.
- Add “bloomed” cocoa powder and vanilla to dough and mix to combine.
- Add egg to dough and mix to combine. (Adding egg to fully mixed dough will avoid any contact with hot bloomed cocoa, preventing the chance of curdling your egg.)
- Unroll a large length of parchment paper, about 2 ft. long. Cut and lay flat on counter or table.
- Spoon 1/3 of dough onto parchment paper. Using your hands, form the dough into a log of relatively uniform thickness – about the size you’d like your cookies to be. Place the log on the long end of the parchment closest to you, centered.
- Roll the dough up in the parchment.
- Grab the ends of the parchment with both hands and, with your hands close to the dough, twist several times in opposite directions. The motion will consolidate the dough into a beautifully round log.
- Repeat with the remaining 2/3 of dough to create 3 dough logs.
- Store dough in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, so the dough becomes firm enough to slice into cookies. Alternately, freeze until a later date. Home-made slice and bake cookies!
Baking the cookies:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Working with one dough log at a time (keep the others in the fridge), unwrap and slice cookies with a serrated knife about 1/4 inch wide.
- Arrange cookies on a jellyroll baking sheet, lined with parchment or silpat, 12 or 15 cookies to a baking sheet.
- Sprinkle liberally with finishing salt, Maldon recommended.
- Bake for 12 minutes total, switching the racks and turning each pan 180° halfway through baking. Cookies should look dry in the center.
- Let cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Move cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.
Procedure with Pictures and Anecdotes
I made these cookies twice last year – once to test on co-workers and the second time as gifts. While people raved, I just wanted a richer, more chocolatey flavor and I couldn’t quite attain it. To try to maximize the chocolate, I made FIVE changes to this batch: all things I’d learned to “up the ante” on chocolate flavor:
1. Blooming chocolate: I learned this from America’s Test Kitchen – apparently, to get the richest flavor from your cocoa powder, you need to “activate” it with hot water. Even though the original recipe doesn’t call for any liquid, I added 7 TBL of water to bloom the cocoa.
2. More salt: Salt brings out other flavors – it’s often what’s missing when you find a recipe to be “meh.” I used salted butter instead of unsalted to increase the salt quotient.
3. More vanilla: Vanilla is often cited as a flavor booster, so instead of the teaspoon the recipe suggests, I added a tablespoon.
4. More fat: The reason that milk chocolate is so popular is because it contains more fat and more sugar than dark chocolate. So instead of using an egg white, as the recipe suggests, I used a whole egg. A little more fat to increase the chocolate flavor – and a little more egg magic also helped the dough stayed together better. I’ve done this with peanut butter cookies as well and I’m very happy with the result.
5. More sugar: I used Toll House dark chocolate chips instead of chopped bittersweet chocolate. The sugar brings out the chocolate flavor we all know and love while the chocolate chips cut out a whole step of chopping chocolate by hand – not one of my favorite kitchen chores.
The combined efforts definitely gave me a more satisfactory cookies – the dough wasn’t as brittle and I did have a better chocolate flavor. Still not perfect, but I think my loved ones will enjoy them!
A manageable dough:
I think the addition of a whole egg as opposed to an egg white really gave this dough what it needed to be easier to handle. While the steps above seem a little complex, and certainly take more time than a scoop cookie, I think you’ll find it’s easier than it sounds. Pictures to help visualize below.
The log formed with my hands. I know it… looks gross. Try to look past that.
Twisting the ends to make the cylinder:
Last year, I found that my cookie logs became flat on one side when chilling. It’s easy to fix by hand once you’ve sliced the cookies, but I thought I must have some vessel that was curved that would help them keep their shape. And behold – I remembered that I had a baguette pan, which I have never ever used to make baguettes, but that is just the right size.The twist method makes a pretty impressive cylinder. However, the edges to get a little wonky, as one might expect. Fortunately, this dough is very forgiving. I slice the ends to the right width and then just mold those scraggly edges with my fingers. In some ways, I actually like the look of them better!
Left: cookie that has been cut from the inside of the log. Right: end slice that has been molded into shape.
Cutting the slices is very easy, especially with a serrated knife (bread knife)…
With a little bit of effort, these cookies are dressed to impress.
Here you can see the differences in the cookies. Some turn out picture perfect like the cookie in the top right but, really, I think they all look pretty delicious. I kinda like the imperfect ones better.
Perfect with a mug of something warm, snuggled with loved ones in front of the fire. Cookies and Christmas just go together. I mean, really – what’s Christmas without cookies?