“Brutti ma buoni!” I declare to everyone when I present them with one of these cookies, “Ugly but good!”
Don’t let the name ruin it for you. I had three egg whites left over from making these hamantaschen last weekend, and proceeded to convert them into another sweet treat. Many recipes for brutti ma buoni cookies call for grinding almonds with the sugar, but I happened to have hazelnuts on hand, and found that this was not an unprecedented substitution. When you grind the nuts and sugar together, it has the wonderful side-effect of making the sugar ever so much finer, allowing it to fold into the egg whites easily and uniformly.
We are nearing the time in the calendar when eggs will be abundant in the farmers’ markets. (It is not a coincidence that all of our major early spring festivals feature eggs—it’s because normal chickens kept in human conditions will produce massive amounts of eggs during this time period.) These cookies would be a great choice for celebrating spring. The way I formed the cookies, with an elongated serving spoon, meant that they even took on an egg shape. I think these would be a marvelous choice for Easter or Passover.
The cookies do keep for a few weeks if they are left to cool completely (for several hours) the day they are made, and then stored in a dry, tightly sealed tin or container. They’re light as air, and crisp, fragrant with hazelnuts and ever so slightly chewy in the center. Good, indeed. Let’s be honest, sometimes “ugly but good” is how we would describe the essence of our lives. And we focus on the good, no? Can I get an amen?
Brutti ma buoni
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
- 2 cups or 8.5 ounces hazelnuts
- 3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 egg whites, room temperature
- pinch of kosher salt
- pinch of cream of tartar (if you have it)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Place hazelnuts on a single layer on baking sheet and put into oven. Toast for 10 (room temperature nuts) to 12 minutes (refrigerated nuts), until skins begin to loosen on nuts and they’re just toasting. Remove from oven and turn nuts onto a clean linen dish towel. Pull up the towel’s edges to fully enclose the nuts, and knead, rub, and roll them on the countertop. Open towel and check; most of the nuts should now be free of their skins. Pick the nuts out of the chaff and add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. It is okay if some of them still have some skins on them. Allow nuts to cool a bit while you prepare to mix the cookies.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment. (Alternatively you may butter the baking sheets.) Pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the metal whisk. (Be sure the bowl and whisk are free of even the faintest trace of oil or grease. Add salt and cream of tartar (if using) to the egg whites. Set these aside and return to the food processor. Make sure nuts are just warm, and not hot. Add sugar and pulse with hazelnuts until they are finely chopped. Pour this into a separate bowl and add the vanilla. Set aside.
3. Whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy, and then increase the speed to medium-high to high. Beat until stiff peaks just form, but not a moment longer. (They’ll go quickly from holding a soft speak to holding a stiff peak.) Remember, because you are not adding sugar at this point, the meringue will not become glossy. It will simply stiffen. Remove mixer bowl from stand, add nut-sugar mixture to egg whites and gently fold together until sugar and nuts are completely incorporated.
4. Drop batter onto prepared cookie sheets by the spoonful. You can make small teaspoon-size cookies, or larger tablespoon-size cookies. Bake in prepared oven for 25 minutes from smaller cookies, and 30-35 minutes for larger cookies. The cookies will be dry to the touch and slightly gold in color when done. Carefully remove cookies from parchment and allow them to cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Packed tightly, cookies will keep several weeks.