The hazelnuts clatter into the warm, shallow pan and I start to toast them over a low heat. The browning seems to take forever at first, but I resist turning up the heat and continue to watch carefully, shaking the pan from time to time. Precious, plump little nuts, hazelnuts are expensive, and I really mustn’t allow them to burn again. Like cooking chickpeas from scratch, I burn hazelnuts as regularly as day turns to night. The alternative is to roast them in the oven, but I would rather have them close at hand, where I can keep an eye on their progress from white to biscuit brown.
The skinned nuts are getting a toasting to intensify their flavour. The difference between a raw nut and one you have lovingly bronzed over a low heat is astonishing and even more so when coated in dark chocolate or ground for a biscuit or cookie, which is I what I am doing today. The cookies are a much-needed treat; a batch of tiny round discs sandwiched together with a buttercream made from a paste of the nuts and sugar. And before that, there are roasted autumn vegetables with a nutty flavoured dressing of tahini and yogurt.
Roast roots with tahini
Sweet vegetables – beetroots, carrots and pumpkins – served with a sesame and yogurt dressing. They work cold, too, though I would save the dressing until you are ready to eat. Serves 4
olive oil 6 tbsp
za’atar 2 tsp
For the dressing:
natural yogurt 125g
tahini 2 tbsp
lemon juice 1-2 tbsp
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Scrub the beetroots and carrots. Cut the carrots in half lengthways and each beetroot into thick wedges, and drop them into a large mixing bowl. Peel the pumpkin, remove the fibres and seeds, then cut into wedges and add to the bowl.
Pour the olive oil over the vegetables and the za’atar and add a grinding of pepper and salt. Toss all the vegetables together so they are well coated with the oil and spice mix, then transfer to a roasting tin. Bake for 45-60 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Test the vegetables with a metal skewer after about 40 minutes. They are ready when it goes through the flesh easily.
While the roots are roasting, make the dressing. Mix the yogurt, tahini and lemon juice, beating in 1 tbsp or so of water if it won’t fall easily from the spoon.
When the roots are thoroughly tender and lightly browned, serve them with the tahini dressing.
Hazelnut buttercream cookies
The dough will keep in the fridge or the freezer, so you can slice off as much as you need and batch bake. The praline cream will keep for a few days in the fridge. Makes approximately 30 cookies
For the praline:
skinned hazelnuts 250g
caster sugar 125g
vegetable oil a little
For the cookies:
soft brown sugar 100g
plain flour 200g
salt ½ tsp
skinned hazelnuts 15, halved
For the butter icing:
icing sugar 250g
reserved praline paste above
Tip the hazelnuts into a wide, shallow pan and toast them over a moderate heat until golden. Shake the pan regularly to brown them evenly. Sprinkle in the sugar and leave it to melt. Don’t stir. Lightly oil a baking sheet with vegetable oil. As the sugar becomes syrupy gently move the nuts around, making sure they are all lightly coated. As the caramel darkens to a deep and glossy brown, remove the pan from the heat and tip on to the oiled tray.
Leave the nuts for 15 minutes to cool. Break them into small pieces, put them in a food processor and process for a minute or so to fine crumbs. Stop the machine, remove 120g and set aside. Continue processing until the remaining crumbs become a thick paste. Watch carefully as this change happens suddenly. Scrape the paste into a bowl and set aside.
To make the cookies: set the oven at 160C/gas mark 3. Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of a food mixer with a flat paddle attachment and beat at moderate speed until soft and creamy. It will mix more evenly if you push the mixture down the sides of the bowl once or twice with a rubber spatula. Meanwhile mix the flour, cornflour and salt together, then stir in the reserved 120g of praline.
With the paddle slowly turning, add the flour mixture a few spoonfuls at a time. When everything is well mixed, scoop the dough on to a piece of foil, greaseproof paper or cling film. Roll the dough into a fat sausage about 28cm in length and 6cm in diameter, wrap loosely and place in the fridge for an hour. (Don’t skip this or your cookies will spread alarmingly.)
Take a slice of the dough as thick as a £1 coin (just over 3mm) and place it on the baking sheet. Now repeat with as many cookies as you can get on your sheet. Place half a hazelnut on half of the cookies. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until walnut coloured, then remove and transfer to a cooling rack. They will crisp up on cooling.
If you like your cookies to have neat edges, use a 6cm cookie cutter to trim each while still warm, then transfer with a palette knife to a cooling rack.
For the icing, cream the butter until soft, stir in the icing sugar, then stir in the reserved praline paste. Sandwich the biscuits with the buttercream, placing the hazelnut topped cookie on top.
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