Some cookies are made to be shipped. They're crunchy, sturdy, and can weather any postal worker's worst mood.
If you can imagine those cookies' polar opposite, you'd have in your mind the cookies I'm sharing with you today. They are not for shipping, unless your friends will be particularly excited to receive a tin full of hazelnut-flecked, molasses-flavored cookie crumbs. (Incidentally, the crumbs, which you inevitably will have after making and packing a batch of these cookies, are just superb sprinkled on vanilla ice cream. But I digress.) They are, however, the perfect finale to a meal, a day, a 30-minute TV show. They're a cookie to bring your next door neighbor or to set out at a housewarming/open house/holiday party. where people don't have to fuss with them all that much. Yes, they're delicate beings, these cookies. But boy are they good.
I found them in a book by the great Alice Medrich that I checked out of the library some weeks ago. I happened upon the recipe, thought of the bag of hazelnuts in my freezer (I keep all my nuts in the freezer - they stay fresh much longer that way), and copied the recipe. I knew I wouldn't have the time to make them before the book was due back at the library; I also knew that once I made them, I'd want the recipe on hand to make them again and again. On both counts, I was right.
It's funny that these cookies are so light and crispy and delicate; when sliced raw, they look like pieces of high-quality salami, which is every bit as different in texture from these cookies as it sounds. The salami resemblance disappears when they bake, though. What emerges from the oven is a tray full of toasty, nutty, crispy cookies that, quite frankly, are hard to stop eating. While subtlety may seem to have no place within the holiday cookie genre (red- and green-colored cookies, with blue icing and plenty of sprinkles, please), tasting these cookies, you will feel compelled to fight on behalf of those less glamorous cookies, because as it turns out, they're often just as tasty. Usually more so.
Hazelnut Molasses Crispsadapted from Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy
Alice says this makes about 100; I lost count after 65, but as always, I trust her.
1 2/3 cups (7.5 oz.) all-purpose flour 1/2 cup (2.5 oz.) raw hazelnuts, skin left on 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter, slightly softened 3/4 cup (5.25 oz.) sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon orange zest 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
Put flour, hazelnuts, and baking soda into a food processor and process until nuts are fine. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or a nonreactive mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and zest. Beat until thoroughly mixed and fluffy. On low speed, add half the flour mixture, followed by all the molasses. Mix just until combined, then add the remaining flour and mix just until fully incorporated.
Rip a sheet of wax or parchment paper or plastic wrap about 18 inches long. Spoon the dough onto the paper/wrap in a strip along the middle, then wrap paper around dough and use paper to help you shape the dough into a cylinder about 14 inches long and just under 2 inches wide. Wrap tightly, tuck ends of paper under, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Cut slices of dough off the cylinder about 1/8-inch thick. Place the slices about 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, until dark golden brown with even darker edges, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time. When cookies are done, transfer cookies on parchment paper straight to cooling rack. Once cookies are completely cool, store in stacks in an airtight container. Cookies can keep this way for just over 1 week.