Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Delicate hazelnut cookies from Piedmont, sandwiched together with a "kiss" of dark chocolate.
With a name like “ladies' kisses,” these elegant little hazelnut cookies from Piedmont in Italy's north are just what you'd expect -- sweet, soft, and delicate. Two halves of cookie are sandwiched together in a “kiss” of melted bittersweet chocolate to create the perfect, bite-sized morsel. They make quite the ladylike accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee, too.
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There is really only one way to make baci di dama. 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 recipe -- what Italians call “casalinga” (literally, “housewife”) -- these delightful biscotti require a certain amount of technique and skill in order to retain their delicate shape and texture.
There are plenty of tricks to getting this right: Work quickly; use very cold butter; and cook them in a very cool oven. If you follow this traditional method, not only will they hold their shape, but they will remain so wonderfully soft that they literally melt as soon as they hit your tongue. 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.
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 just ground hazelnuts, like they do in the area of Cuneo (this is, after all, where Nutella was born).
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. 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 -- whip a handful of hazelnuts into a creamy paste in a food processor, then add a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar and dark chocolate.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.