Oma's Hazelnut Cookies
When I was a kid, the making of these cookies always started the same way. Dad would take a bagful of hazelnuts -- nutcracker in one hand, a couple of empty bowls in the other. He'd sit in his comfortable living room chair and, one by one, he'd crack each nut, reserving the whole ones in one bowl, the broken ones in another.
Meanwhile, mom would help us kids set up the nut grinder -- an old-fashioned metal contraption that we clamped down to the end of a spare and somewhat wobbly table. Once the nuts were all cracked, it was on to the grinding operation. We dropped a few nuts at a time into the hopper, followed by a snug-fitting wooden block that we used to push them down to the grinder wheel. One hand pressed on the block while the other gave a few cranks of the handle... squeak, rattle, squeak, rattle... and out came the fine dust of ground nuts. (I'll bet mom and dad still have that old nut grinder tucked away in a closet somewhere. It's now a family heirloom.)
To the kitchen mom went to mix the ground hazelnuts into a batter. My next task was to add a dollop of cinnamon-scented meringue to the top of each cookie, followed by one of the unbroken hazelnuts my dad set aside. Then into the oven they went, filling our house with the fragrance of Christmas as they baked.
In recent years, my mom told me she often uses almonds in these cookies now. Almonds are more readily available in shelled form, and they give the cookies an equally wonderful flavor. Always, though, they are topped with whole hazelnuts. It's the tradition!
1/2 pound hazelnuts or almonds (or a combination of the two), finely ground
1/2 pound confectioners' sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 "Messerspitze" of cinnamon (about a 1/2 teaspoon)
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat egg whites while adding sugar a little at a time. Beat until the batter is soft like marshmallow. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside 1/2 cup of the meringue. Mix in ground nuts by hand. Place by spoonfuls on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Top with a dab of the reserved meringue. Push a whole hazelnut into the meringue to top each cookie. Bake for about 20 minutes until they're light brown. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
This recipe is my contribution to the 2007 Festive Food Fair, hosted by Anna at Morsels & Musings. This blogging event, now in its second year, celebrates holiday food traditions from all over the world. Last year, Anna collected 67 mouthwatering recipes!
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