Gina DePalma’s Baci di Cioccolato
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I have a soft spot for Italian cookies. They are not delicate, intricate confections like the French macarons or madeleines. Italian cookies are made of sturdy stuff, like biscotti that will break your teeth if you dare to eat them without first dunking in coffee to soften, but somehow, when faced with Italian cookies, my usual resolve – to daintily eat sweets but a few pieces at a time – melt away faster than the Arctic glaciers. I simply cannot resist them.
So when my friend Gina DePalma, the fabulous pastry chef of Babbo in Manhattan, sent me her Italian dessert book Dolce Italiano, the first chapter I poured through was for the cookies. I didn’t get very far, mind you. I stopped at the very first one, these adorable Chocolate Kisses, Baci di Cioccolato, made from ground almond and sandwiched in between a layer, a kiss, of chocolate ganache.
I remember the Baci cookies well. Each region in Italy seems to have a recipe to call their own. The one I’m most used to is from a little bakery in Sanremo, not far from the central market. The Baci di Sanremo were like somewhat less refined chocolate macarons. The texture was heftier, the almonds not as finely ground, but boy were they good. I could eat them, and have eaten them, by the bagful.
GIna’s Baci are different still, more like sablés or chocolate shortbread in texture, rather than airy, meringue-ish macarons, but true to form, they are just as irresistible. The recipe is so easy to follow, I’m already day-dreaming all kinds of fun adaptations – maybe I’ll start with one using hazelnuts instead of almonds, and then fill them with Nutella instead of ganache. Ooh, ok, now you’re going to have to finish this post by yourself. I’m running back to the kitchen to play. Ha. Just kidding.
Chocolate Kisses, Baci di Cioccolato
For the cookies
- 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, plus about 1/4 cup | 50g sugar for rolling the cookies
- 1 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon | 190g All-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup | 35g Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I use Valrhona)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup | 225g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup | 125g powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon rum
Preheat the oven to 325F. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until they are light golden brown and fragrant. I only had almonds with skin on so I used them, no big deal. I rubbed out some of the skin after they came out of the oven to get rid of some of the skin. Let the almonds cool down completely before grinding them in the food processor with the tablespoon of sugar until they are finely ground. Turn the oven off.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together, then set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and light. Then, add the vanilla and rum, scrape down the side of the bowl and beat a bit more until well-combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low speed , then the ground almonds.
Beat well to distribute the flour and ground almond evenly throughout the dough. You might need to finish by stirring with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is incorporated. Scrape the dough into two bowls, cover with plastic and refrigerate for an hour, until it is firm enough to handle.
Turn the oven back on to 325F when you are ready to work with the dough. Remove one bowl of dough from the fridge, leaving the other one to chill while you work on the first batch. Put the 1/4 cup of sugar for rolling in a small bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Using a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop out a generous teaspoon at a time and roll each into a ball, roughly 3/4 inch in diameter. Roll each ball in sugar and line them up on a baking sheet. When you finish the first batch of dough, bake it on the middle rack in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. While the first batch is baking you can continue to work on the second batch of dough. Turn the baking sheet half way through the baking time to ensure even baking. In her book Gina says this recipe makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies, but she was a little more precise about how she measures each one. My simpler (ok, lazier) method yields almost 3 dozens, which is just fine with me if you want to know.
The cookies are done when they are puffed and cracking slightly on top. Remove them from the oven. Let stand to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then use a spatula to transfer them to a rack to cool completely. While the cookies are cooling down you could go work on the ganache.
For the ganache filling
- 8oz | 225g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 tablespoon | 15g butter, softened
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons rum, grappa, cognac, or your favorite liquor (optional)
Place the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a boil in a small pot over low heat, then pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and butter. Let stand a couple minutes, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in the rum, if using. Allow the ganache to cool, whisking occasionally, until it is firm enough to pipe. Transfer the ganache into a pastry bag to pipe. (Note: if you don’t have a pastry bag, don’t sweat it, just spoon a small amount onto the cookies. It’ll be a bit messier but it’ll work just fine.)
To finish to Baci, pair up the cookies based on size, pick the prettier ones to be on top. Pipe a generous amount onto each of the bottom cookies, then place the top one on top, of course, and press down a little to spread out the chocolate just to the rim. I was a little bit conservative and ended up with leftover ganache – hot chocolate tomorrow, yay – so next time I might not couple up the cookies as I fill, in case I have leftover ganache to add to them.
My cookies turn out a little flatter than Gina’s picture in the book. That’s probably because I didn’t take my own advice and work the dough in two batches. Plus I baked both cookie sheets at once, so they turned out a bit flat. Still delicious though. I can assure you that.
So, now that I got my kisses, I’m on to the next Italian cookie obsession. These Amaretti Morbidissimi – or, These Amaretti Will Make Me Morbidly Fat – from the same place I found those Baci di Sanremo. Okay, okay, I know the name actually means soft Amaretti. I still prefer the first translation – more fun that way, and probably more true. I want, want, want to learn how to make these. Have you got an Italian grandmother? Does she have a secret recipe for these? Would you share? I’ll do anything. Ok, almost anything. Pretty please…