Have I mentioned what a sap I am about Christmas? This morning I might have teared up a little bit listening to Michael Bublé sing I’ll be Home for Christmas. (Don’t judge.)
I’ve always loved Christmas. It probably started because my birthday is on Christmas day. When I was little, the holiday season represented a shower of gifts and cake and celebration after a year-long drought spent watching my friends celebrate their non-Christmas birthdays.
People always think Christmas birthdays suck. But they only suck if your family and friends suck. My family has always celebrated Christmas on December 24th and my birthday on the 25th. And I’ve never once received a combo Christmas/birthday present. So I think it’s a pretty sweet deal.
Now that I’m an adult and no longer staying up to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer, I still love Christmas. I love the decorations and the food and the music. I love the baking and the wrapping and the anticipation that if we're lucky, there just might be snow.
But Christmas and I had a dark patch.
There was a period when I had let things spiral up into Martha-Stewart-level insanity and was crumbling under the pressure to buy amazing gifts, decorate the perfect tree, bake and ship an assortment of holiday cookies and plan a Christmas Eve feast like no other.
As I wrote in this post, it struck me (probably while I was stuck in holiday traffic) that I was super pissed about Christmas. I wanted to abandon the whole thing, book a flight to a sunny beach somewhere and drink margaritas for about a week. Not exactly holiday cheer.
That was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).
So now I’m on a mission to keep Christmas easy, breezy and fun. Like it should be. To that end, I’m teaming up with Megan from Cream & Honey to bring you a month of posts centered around celebrating the holiday in style without losing your mind. We’ll have recipes, entertaining tips, gift guides. Maybe even a holiday playlist with Michael Bublé crooning I’ll be Home for Christmas. (Don’t play it cool. You know you secretly love the Bubs.)
I’m kicking things off with this recipe for Hazelnut Amaretti with Orange and Vanilla. This is my version of a cookie I saw in my friend Caroline’s Instagram feed. She was kind enough to translate the recipe from Dutch and send it to me. After I tasted them, I decided these cookies would be perfect with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Because I am incapable of following a recipe as written, and because I love hazelnut with coffee, I played around with Caroline’s recipe until I came up with this version.
Calling these cookies is a little misleading. They lie somewhere between a cookie and a confection. On the first day, they are crisp on the outside with a bit of softness in the center. On the next day, however, they are tender and chewy under their crisp, airy crust. I like them better the second day. I imagine that, like most amaretti-type cookies they will hold for ages in a well-sealed tin. But they have yet to make it past a second day in our house, so I can’t tell you for sure.
To help you keep things simple this holiday season, these are super easy to make. These come together in about 10 minutes (plus additional chilling and baking time, when you can be sipping a glass of wine and waiting for these to come out of the oven so you can dunk them in your wine). You don’t have to candy citrus or roll out shortbread or make a citrus glaze like I asked you to do for last year’s holiday cookie (it was so good though!). You can freeze the dough and bake these off as you need them. Aaaand these little guys are sturdy. They will happily hold their shape if you decide to ship them across town or to the other side of the globe. Ta-da!
And for even more inspiration on how to keep the holiday season Classy Not Crazy this year, click on over to Megan’s recipe for Pine Shortbread Cookies. In addition to this awesome recipe (Pine, people! It's hip. It's a thing. Look it up.), you'll also get Megan's tips on how to plan a killer holiday party with ease and some great gift ideas.
Let me know in the comments below what sort of holiday tips you'd like more of. And I’ll be back next week with more ideas for keeping your holiday baller status high and your stress-levels low.
Hazelnut Amaretti with Orange and Vanilla
- 200g (1 1/2 cups) raw hazelnuts
- 200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
- 2 tablespoons coconut flour (All-Purpose flour or cornstarch will also work)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- Whites from 2 large eggs
- 1 cup powdered sugar
*Notes: I highly recommend using weight measurements for all baking, since it is so much more precise than volume measurements. I especially recommend it for these cookies since the size (and thus volume) of hazelnuts can vary so widely.
- I also made a batch of these with almonds instead of the hazelnuts and lemon zest instead of the orange that was lighter in flavor, but also delicious. Feel free to play around with the nuts and flavorings to make these cookies your own. The only test batch I didn't love were the 100% pistachio version. They were way too rich. If you want to make a pistachio version, I would use roughly half pistachios and half almonds.
Preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C.
Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 12 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan and place them in the middle of a large kitchen towel. Bring the four corners of the towel towards each other and twist them together to make a little parcel. Vigorously rub the hazelnuts together inside the towel for a minute or so. When you open the towel most of the skins should have fallen off. Lift the nuts off the towel with a slotted spoon, leaving the skins behind (it's ok if some are still attached) and place them on a plate to cool. Set aside.
When the hazelnuts are completely cool, place them in a food processor along with 150 g (3/4 cup) of the sugar, the coconut flour, baking powder, orange zest, and the salt. Using a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the seeds to the mixture in the food processor. Process until the mixture looks like sand. (Take care not to over-process or your nuts will start to turn to nut butter.) Set aside.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat at medium speed with the whisk attachment. (You can also use a hand mixer or beat the eggs by hand with a whisk.) When the whites look foamy, increase the speed to high and gradually sprinkle in the remaining 50g (1/4 cup) sugar. It should take about 30-45 seconds to drizzle in the sugar--don't rush it. Continue to beat at high speed until the whites are dense and glossy and just hold soft peaks.
Gently fold the nut mixture into the egg whites. The egg whites will deflate quite a bit, but try to use a light hand so the dough retains some of the lightness from the whipped eggs. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes (this makes it easier to scoop).
When the dough has chilled, place the powdered sugar in a rimmed plate or pie pan. Use a small scoop (I used a 1-tablespoon scoop) to form walnut-sized balls of dough. Drop them in the powdered sugar and roll them around until they are coated in sugar. Transfer the coated dough balls to the refrigerator or freezer to rest for another 30 minutes. I prefer to freeze mine. If you want to freeze them for later use, just pop the coated dough balls in a freezer bag once they're sold and bake from frozen.
If the dough balls have absorbed most of the powdered sugar coating, roll them in the powdered sugar again before baking. Then place them on a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow "X" onto the top of each cookie. This is what gives these cookies their crispy, craggy surface. Bake for 15-20 minutes. You want them to be golden on the bottom with crispy edges and soft in the middle. Keep in mind that they will crisp up as they cool. For a softer, blonder cookie, bake closer to 15 minutes. For a crispier, slightly darker cookie, bake closer to 20. Bake completely frozen dough balls for 18-20 minutes.
When the cookies are done, cool them on their pan for 5-10 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an air-tight container after baking.