I love hazelnuts — especially when they’re roasted, and especially when they’re not drenched in overpowering chocolate (sorry, Nutella). I created my hazelnut brown sugar cookie dough as a nod to my favorite nut, and I’ve been sharing them annually in my holiday cookie tins for awhile now — though they’re equally enjoyable all year long. Over time, I’ve had dozens of requests for the recipe, so I’m finally sharing it.
To give the cookies a depth of toasty flavor, the hazelnuts are pre-roasted (which alone fills the kitchen with a scrumptious aroma). Baking the cookies at a somewhat high temperature on the upper rack of the oven ensures a crisp exterior while preventing the bottoms from browning too much. The glaze tops them off with a welcome layer of extra sweetness and beauty.
With their toasty, crisp edges and barely tender centers, these petite cookies deliver a symphony of textures and flavors in each bite. The deeply toasted hazelnuts and whisper of molasses-laced brown sugar are delightfully complementary. The boozy glaze acts as delicate shell that’s somehow both warm and cooling on the tongue. Could there be a better way to showcase the magic of these beloved nuts? Maybe, maybe not.
Toasted Hazelnut Brown Sugar Cookies (makes 36 – 40 small cookies)
- 5 ounces (142 grams) shelled hazelnuts
- 1.75 cups (9 ounces or 254 grams) flour
- 1.25 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup (2.6 ounces or 75 grams) unsalted butter, soft/room temperature
- 3/4 cup (5 ounces or 141 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 medium to large egg
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- glaze (recipe follows)
PREPARE THE HAZELNUTS:
This step looks tedious, but it goes fast, isn’t difficult, and can be done well in advance. It’s easiest to rub away the peels when the nuts are just roasted, but if yours are already blanched and/or roasted, you can be selective and skip steps accordingly. For the 40 whole nuts reserved for pressing into the cookies, I like mine extra toasted, but feel free to opt to not pre-roast them if you prefer; they’ll get another chance when the cookies bake.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven 8 – 10 minutes, until fragrant and just browning. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Unless your hazelnuts are blanched, remove most of their papery skins by rubbing them gently together in batches, using a clean, dry towel or hands. It’s OK if some skins are stuck on; removing even just some of them will ensure a premium texture and will reduce potential bitterness. Discard skins.
Set aside 40 of the prettiest whole hazelnuts for pressing into the cookies later. Once completely cool, place remaining nuts in a nut crusher or food processor, and pulse to create a medium to fine crumb, neither totally powdered nor pasty.
PREPARE AND BAKE THE DOUGH:
Measure out 1/2 cup well-packed ground hazelnuts (3 ounces or 86 grams) and place in a medium bowl. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of ground nuts; whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a separate, larger bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until well combined. Add egg and mix until incorporated, followed by the extract. Add the dry ingredients gradually, beating until just fully combined with a cohesive dough formed. You may have to knead the dough with your hands a bit.
Line cookie sheets with parchment. Using a scant tablespoon of dough (0.5 to 0.7 ounce or 15-17 grams) per cookie, shape dough balls and set them on the parchment at least an inch apart from one another. Press a whole hazelnut firmly into the center of each cookie, about a third of the way through.
To help retain their shape, freeze cookies for at least 15 minutes (or in a tightly sealed container up to a month). Meanwhile, position an oven rack at the highest level in your oven, near the top. Preheat oven to 375 F.
Place sheet of chilled cookies on the upper oven rack, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are toasty brown and tops no longer look wet. Let cool completely on baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks for glazing.
FOR THE GLAZE:
Raw egg white is a standard ingredient in traditional royal icing, but feel free to skip it if needed, noting that the icing will not dry or harden as quickly or thoroughly, and that you’ll need a little more liquid. If you don’t want to use alcohol, use a combination of water and vanilla extract in its place. Double this recipe if you prefer not to scrape up and re-use the drippings, or if you want to dunk the whole cookie in glaze or double-glaze the cookies for a sweeter result.
- 1 tablespoon gently whisked egg white
- 1 cup (4.5 ounces or 130 grams) powdered sugar, packed
- pinch of salt
- 3 – 5 teaspoons dark rum, bourbon, or Irish whiskey
Set the rack of cookies over a clean baking sheet or cutting board. Place the tablespoon of egg white in a medium bowl and sift powdered sugar over it. Add the salt. Begin to whisk, adding alcohol one teaspoon at a time. Whisk well, until smooth and lump-free. Glaze should pour easily but should not be clear or too runny; you may not need the full amount of liquid listed above.
Using about 1/2 teaspoon per cookie, spoon the glaze over the center of each cookie, letting it run off the edges. Re-whisk the glaze as you go. If you run out of glaze, work quickly to scrape up the drippings beneath the rack, re-whisk, and continue spooning over cookies. Let glaze set at room temperature until dry to the touch, and enjoy!
Cookies taste best fresh, but can be stored in a sealed container at cool room temperature and eaten within 4 -5 days. If stacking cookies, use mini muffin liners or parchment between layers.
Maybe next time… Instead of centering a nut in these cookies, you can make an indention and fill with jam such as raspberry (for a Linzertorte-esque treat), filling before baking. If you do so, skip the glaze to avoid oversweetness. Also, this cookie dough makes great roll-and-cut cookies. Read more about that format here.