Baci di Dama (Chocolate-Filled Hazelnut Cookies)

By • March 22, 2014 • 32 Comments

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Author Notes: There is really only one way to make baci di dama, if you're going the traditional way and you want melt in the mouth results (and you should). It is a recipe of perfect proportions (just look at the measurements in metric weight) and the bare essentials that every Piemontese signora probably knows or has had passed down to her. But despite it being a simple, what Italians call “casalinga” (literally, “housewife”) recipe, these delightful biscotti require a certain amount of technique and skill in order to retain their delicate shape and texture.
And there are plenty of tricks to getting this right and if you're familiar with working with short crust pastry, this won't be new – you want that perfect dome to each cookie half, so delicate that they fall apart in your mouth. One, work quickly; two, use very cold butter and three, they need to be barely cooked in a very cool oven. Following this traditional method, not only do they keep their shape and don't melt into a puddle, but they remain so wonderfully soft they literally melt as soon as they hit your tongue.
While the method is always the same, you'll find these most commonly made with almond meal like they do in Tortona, but depending on the area of Piedmont you're in, the recipe may be made with a mixture of almond and hazelnut meal or, like they do in the area of Cuneo (the land of hazelnuts – this is, after all, where Nutella was born), just hazelnuts.
Many modern recipes include eggs or milk or other unorthodox ingredients that help stabilize the cookies during cooking so that you don't need to be so careful with the preparation or the cooking to lose that domed shape. But you can tell the difference – they're not as light or delicate.
Try these with a filling of homemade gianduia (hazelnut and chocolate) too – to the dark chocolate, add a handful of hazelnuts, whipped into a creamy paste in a food processor, together with a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar. Heaven.
Emiko

Makes 20 to 25 cookies

  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) hazelnuts, shelled and skins off
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) very cold butter, cubed
  • 3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup or 100 grams) sugar
  • 3 1/2 ounces (3/4 cup or 100 grams) flour
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) good quality dark chocolate
  1. Start with hazelnuts with skins removed. If you have hazelnuts with skins, toast them gently in the oven until warm and fragrant then rub them in a tea towel to remove the skins -- or, less messy, put them in a plastic bag and shake (the static helps capture the skins and you get much the same result). You don't need to be perfect, but the skins will add a bit of flecked color to the cookies, which is lovely too. Once completely cool, blitz the hazelnuts in a food processor until it resembles sand.
  2. Like a good short crust pastry, you want to make sure your butter is very cold and you want to work quickly. Combine the hazelnut meal, cubed butter, sugar and flour in a bowl and rub with fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs (or use a food processor), then knead until it just comes together into a dough. Flatten to a disc about an inch high and place in the fridge, preferably leaving overnight if you can or at least an hour if you're in a rush.
  3. When ready to make the cookies, remove from the fridge and roll out teaspoon-sized portions of dough into perfect balls and place them on a lined cookie sheet a couple of inches apart (they will spread a little as they sink into domes). Place back in the fridge for a couple of hours before baking (or, if low on time, pop it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes).
  4. Bake in a low oven at about 285 to 300ºF (140 to 150ºC) or less, if using a fan, for 15 minutes or until the cookies become hemispheres and are dry to the touch. They will be very lightly baked and extremely fragile at this point, but you do not want them to brown or melt into a puddle so watch them carefully during this time and if they seem to be cooking too quickly, remove them from the oven or turn the temperature down. Let cool completely before even touching them as they are very fragile. Once cool, they harden enough to handle.
  5. Place the dark chocolate over a double broiler and let it melt about 75 percent. Take off the heat and stir to melt the rest of the chocolate and let it cool about 5 minutes or until it reaches a consistency where it can be spooned onto a cookie without dribbling off the sides. Place a teaspoon of the chocolate on the bottom of half of the cookies and before the chocolate sets (but not too early as it will spill and slide!) place the other hemisphere of cookie on top and leave to set. Store in an air tight container. These are even better a couple of days after baking.
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Comments (32) Questions (0)

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4 months ago Adam

So I made this cookies. I did everything you said in this recipe except of cool off dough before baking in the oven. After I took out cookies from oven they were melted. What did I wrong?

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4 months ago Emiko

Ah, well, you said it yourself! Cooling off the cookies is a really important step as it helps them keep their shape while they bake. Also, as noted in the recipe at step 4, you really need to watch them carefully and pull them out when they have melted just into hemispheres - don't let them melt all the way! They'll still be delicious but they won't be baci di dama ;)

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4 months ago Adam

Well, thanks a lot. I did not tkink that that step it so important. The next time (and I'm pretty sure that there will be) i will apply to your advice. Anyway the cookies are delicious!

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6 months ago Dusanka

I just made these and knew I was risking the outcome as I did not weigh the ingredients AND used pre-ground meal (but it was a last minute decision last night). As could be expected, the mixture was way too crumbly, very much like breadcrumbs and could barely be bound. And when I went to roll them this morning I could just sort of scrape the mixture and then somehow form it together with my hands when the heat set it. When baked the did not flatten at all, they kept the exact shape I made when shaping them with my hands. However, they are delicious. I just dipped one end of them into the chocolate, and they're still pretty. I'll definitely make these again ... the proper way.

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7 months ago Dasha

I had the same issue as one of the previous reviewers - the dough is way too crumbly to hold together. I weighed all ingredients, and technically, if flour is more (or less) dry, it would be reflected in the weight, so going by weight (rather than volume) should be the optimal way to measure, but it did not help I'm this case.

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7 months ago Emiko

Fresh hazelnut meal ground from good hazelnuts is always the best way to go as when ground it releases oil and so is slightly paste-like (think peanut butter). I would always recommend to go this way rather than pre-ground (dry) hazelnut meal, as it's not only the traditional way but also I can't vouch for the pre-ground hazelnut in the recipe process! The quality of the nuts is key. ;)

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7 months ago Dasha

Still ones not answer the question of proportions. Or, are you saying hat a hazelnut butter would be better for this recipe?

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7 months ago Emiko

Oh sorry, didn't realise that that was a question! If you follow the proportions given in the recipe, using whole hazelnuts, ground, I'm sure you'll see a difference. This is the recipe that Piedmont grandmothers have been using over and over again and again for a long time! I have never used hazelnut butter but I wold venture to say no, don't try it! I've heard that an excessively dry/crumbly mixture can be saved with a bit of cold water (try a tablespoon, not much more), but I've never had to do this. Hope this helps answer your question.

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7 months ago camilleong

Hi Emiko,
Thank you for this recipe, this is a keeper and I absolutely love the taste however I just have a few questions
I set my oven to 150c, and my cookies still spread out too much, is this because my oven is still to warm? Or I did not knead my dough long enough to develop the structure of the cookies?

I left them in for only 15 minutes as to not over bake them, however they seem to be undercooked in the middle, is this how the cookies are supposed to be? Or should I have left them in for 2 to 3 more minutes to dry them out?

Thanks!

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7 months ago Emiko

Yes, sounds like it was too hot. It could be that your oven is actually a bit hotter than it says it is but the only way to tell is to buy an oven thermometer and test it out - 15 mins at most is usually enough time. They should be really soft in the middle (this is what makes them so melt in the mouth!), but once cooled they should harden up a little to be easy to handle (though still delicate) but they're not like regular cookies. An indicator that they are actually cooked is that they don't taste like flour. Hope that helps! :)

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7 months ago Coffeebeanpdx

Emiko, thank you so much for sharing this recipe -- and all of the other authentic Italian recipes you've posted so far. (I'm itching to try the Sardinian torrone recipe you posted a while back.)

Anyway, I made the baci di dama last night. (Actually, it took 2 nights to make them, as I made the dough on Tuesday and refrigerated it overnight, according to your instructions.) I tried one of them this morning; it was delicious - very light, flaky and delicate.

However, I'm a little concerned about the way I made the dough. Your instructions stated that I should use very cold butter and work very quickly when forming the dough. Consequently, I used frozen butter and handled the dough as little as possible, which resulted in the dough still being very crumbly. (In fact, if I recall correctly, the dough continued to be crumbly and to fall apart when I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it into the fridge. I admit that there still were pieces of butter in the dough at that time. I cubed the butter per your instructions, but perhaps I didn't cut the butter into small enough cubes? Also, I tend to be paranoid about any shortbread, scone or biscuit recipe that calls for a light touch in handling the dough; I always worry that I'm overworking it, that I didn't put in cold-enough butter, etc.) I reworked the dough a bit when I took it out of the fridge and then refrigerated some of it (and froze the rest because I ran out of fridge room) for about 2 hrs. Even then, the dough still was crumbly. It didn't start to come together until the butter became a lot softer (which happened as I was forming the dough into half-spheres (I forgot to mold them into balls per your instructions)). Was my butter still too cold? Or did I fail to work the dough sufficiently? (For reference, I used pre-ground roasted hazelnut meal from Freddy Guys Hazelnuts and Kerrygold unsalted butter. I also doubled the recipe.) In the end, the baci di dama turned out quite light-colored but very delicate and crispy. (You still can see a lot of flecks of hazelnuts in my baci di dama.) Although you can't see a picture of them, were my baci di dama failures?

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7 months ago Emiko

Doesn't sound like a failure at all to me! They are incredibly delicate and soft and crumbly, but probably if you do them another time, I would make sure to incorporate the butter well (it does need to be cold but as you're working the dough, naturally it softens a bit and this is perfectly fine but you just don't want to overwork it so much so that it heats up in your hands unnecessarily. Just work it until it all blends together perfectly, then you're done and can let it rest. Also, pre-ground hazelnut meal is drier than when you grind fresh hazelnuts (depending on how fresh they are they tend to form more of a paste, like peanut butter) so you can expect a slightly crumbly dough, which is ok too, it's just a little more delicate to work with. Finally, you will want to roll them into balls next time, it will allow a bit more time in the oven as the butter (and therefore the balls) melts so the cookies can firm up more without colouring. But otherwise, they sound perfectly fine - light, flaky and delicate is exactly what you want! :)

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7 months ago Coffeebeanpdx

Thank you so much, Emiko! I definitely will work the dough more next time. And it's good to know that pre-ground hazelnut meal is drier than fresh.

I really thought the baci di dama were delicious, as did my friend w/whom I shared them. I was able to make enough baci di dama for 3 bags containing a dozen baci di dama. I've never had baci di dama that were so delicate and light and flaky before. I can't wait to make more (as soon as I hit the farmers market this weekend to get more hazelnut meal or even raw hazelnuts).

And I love your website! Your instructions are so clear, your stories/background re: each recipe are so interesting and your photos are lovely. (Sorry for gushing!) I've marked a number of recipes that I want to try (e.g., the homemade marscapone). I also love the fact that so many of your recipes are traditional. As much as I love new twists on dishes, I love and appreciate recipes that stick to the old ways too.

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7 months ago Emiko

With really, really good whole hazelnuts, I think this recipe is even better. Let me know what you think if you give it another try. Oh and thank you for the compliments! Made my day! :) The homemade mascarpone is a winner, if you ask me - so, so easy you'll hardly believe it! Hope you enjoy it.

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7 months ago Emiko

Absolutely! Doubling the recipe is perfectly fine.

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7 months ago Lisa Mack

In the intro, you referenced making this only with hazelnut meal. Did you mean it's possible to eliminate the white flour and make it only with the hazelnut meal?

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7 months ago Emiko

Ah no, sorry, I meant in terms of the nuts - you can use a mixture of half almonds, half hazelnuts or all almonds or all hazelnut but you still need the help of some flour to hold it together. You could reduce the amount of flour, however, or if you want a gluten free version, you can use rice flour to replace the white flour.

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7 months ago QueenKlug

I have a bag of ground hazelnuts in the freezer, would it still be 3 1/2 oz of ground?
Thanks, can't wait to make these.

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7 months ago Emiko

Yes, you can use them already ground too - same weight! :)

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7 months ago Beth100

I see the difference now, thanks, all! I can vouch for the deliciousness (and completely-worth-it labor-intensiveness) of David's version - beloved of friends and family at Christmastime! - and am excited to try a slightly different version.

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7 months ago Emiko

Hi Beth - just checked out the recipe to compare David Lebovitz's (or actually Terresa Murphy's) version. The recipe I have published uses exact portions of each ingredient (i.e. 100 grams each of everything), where TM's recipe has a higher ratio of hazelnut and flour. She also calls for room temperature butter, where I find it is important to use cold butter. In fact, the greatest difference is in the method, which is quite different and people have noted in TM's recipe that they have trouble getting it to come together into a dough (probably because there is not enough butter compared to the rest of ingredients?). I've tested this recipe many times with different methods and this has by far been the best way and it happens to also be the most traditional (which is what all my recipes are about!). Anyhow, as mentioned earlier in the comments, this is the standard Piedmont recipe for baci di dama. I'd be interested to know if you try it and what you think of it!

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7 months ago Jennifer

This has a lower cook temp than some other recipes, I noticed. I would love more details about the recommended temperature/cook time and how to be confident that they are cooked through. I am excited to try this recipe!

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7 months ago Emiko

The low temperature is vital to the success of these cookies, especially if you want a perfect hemisphere without having to add other (unorthodox) ingredients to it. Just watch them like a hawk - they don't take long to cook - and as soon as you see them melting down from a round ball to a hemisphere, take them out, and gently touch one. It should feel dry and look opaque rather than shiny (see how shiny they are when unbaked, there is a photo above). And they should also be quite pale, you do not want these to brown. They will be SUPER soft, so be gentle when touching, don't try to move them and don't worry, once they cool, they harden. Hope that helps!

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7 months ago Jennifer

Wonderful! Thank you, this helps a lot. I am making these now!

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7 months ago magpiebaker

@Beth100 I think this is supposed to be a traditional cookie, so it's certainly been covered in multiple places. The proportions of nut to everything else looks different, though. Can't wait to try these!

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7 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

These cookies sound divine, but I'm pretty sure they don't qualify as "biscotti." That word connotes a cookie that is baked twice.

Junechamp

7 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

actually, "biscotti" connotes cookies (plural) that are baked twice. One is a biscotto.

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7 months ago Emiko

Actually biscotti is the general Italian word for cookie (or biscuit in UK English)! :) I speak fluent Italian, having lived in Italy so long, so sometimes I forget that in English "biscotti" is usually associated with the cookie that Italians would call "cantuccini" - it's true though that biscotti literally means twice-cooked and cantuccini (and other ancient forms of Italian cookies) are definitely twice-cooked! But here (and in general in the Italian language), it just simply means "cookie". :)

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7 months ago Beth100

Isn't this a recipe from David Lebovitz's website?

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7 months ago strawberrygirl

He has a recipe for these cookies, but it's not the same. His version uses rice flour.

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7 months ago Emiko

Hello Beth - oh my! Hope you're not suggesting that I take other people's recipes and not credit them! Absolutely this is not Lebovitz's recipe, I actually didn't even know he had a recipe for them. This recipe above is THE most traditional way to make baci di dama, it is the essential recipe that all grandmothers from Piedmont who know how to make these cookies would probably make them. Think of it as an absolutely standard recipe. Then there are little tweaks here and there that some like to make (as noted above, some put eggs or milk in it, some use almond flour, some use a mixture). But having made these several times in various ways, this essential recipe (when done properly, following all the careful notes!) is the best way to get the exact taste and texture as you would find in Piedmont. Now off to check out DL's recipe to compare!