Scrumptious brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good” hazelnut cookies from Piedmont are the proof that often something good can come from a mistake but still taste amazing. Brutti ma buoni were poor people’s cookies.
Created in northern Italy, they spread throughout Italy. Even a few local variations didn’t spoil the secret to their everlasting success, which was their simplicity.
I’m sure you will love these tasty mistakes. With just a few ingredients from your pantry—nuts, sugar, egg whites, spices—you will surprise your guests and make them happy. This recipe doesn’t call for any flour or butter, so they are simple to make if you have a good recipe, a recipe which makes the authentic brutti ma buoni. Well, I have a good one, but it’s the method that makes the difference, the difference between ordinary cookies and scrumptious treats. I will share a few useful tricks to make these genuine, “ugly but good” hazelnut cookies.
I’ve made these cookies plenty of times, yet they always turned out differently from those I could find in local bakeries. I tried a lot of recipes from cookbooks and from the internet; the results were not convincing at all. They came out pale, sticky, flat, and unfortunately, the meringue didn’t rise. I asked myself what mistake I was making, and then everything suddenly became clear. In all the recipes I had read and used, one essential step was missing. Why was it left out? I’m not sure, but I am here to reveal the mystery to you.
Why weren’t my cookies perfect?
Because they were not ugly enough! The photos of these cookies were too nice. They were not truly brutti e buoni. Not only should they look really ugly, but they should have a “surprise effect” when you take your first bite.
Why you should taste these ugly-but-good cookies
Because of their crumbly and light texture and because they are simply delicious. Their crispy meringue surface hides a tender core, a real melt-in-your-mouth delight where a crunchy crust meets a chewy and nutty core.
Even though pastry chefs long for perfection with both aesthetics and taste, here we are going to bake ugly, shapeless cookies with poor color. But taste just one, and you will never be able to live without them. You just have to get beyond your visual impression of these delightful treats.
The mystery is revealed
You don’t need to be a pastry chef to bake these cookies at all. But unlike what’s written in all the recipes and guaranteed to produce flat and pale meringues, what you really need to do for success is to cook the mixture for a few minutes before baking. Your ugly-but-good cookies will be really ugly but really scrumptious.
Moreover, use mini-paper cups for boxed chocolates to hold these cookies securely. They will keep their spherical shape and won’t flatten out.
“Brutti ma buoni”, ugly but good: Italian vanilla hazelnut cookies.
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp of toasted and peeled hazelnuts or almonds (170g)
- About ½ cup of slivered almonds (30-40g)
- 3 egg whites
- ¾ cups of granulated sugar (170g)
- 3 tsp of unsweetened or cocoa (5g)
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean (4g)
- Take the eggs out of the fridge and let them warm up to room temperature;
- Preheat your oven to 250°F (121°C) and chop the hazelnuts into medium-coarse grains and have them ready to add to your meringue mixture. Pulse them intermittently in your food processor so the blade doesn’t heat up the nuts too much and render them bitter. I’d even suggest refrigerating your food processor bowl and blade before processing the nuts;
- Separate your eggs, but be careful not to get yolks in the whites. Even a tiny bit of yolk can ruin the meringue. With the whisk attachment, beat the whites for 5-6 minutes until you get very stiff peaks. It should be fluffy, white, and thick;
- Sift in the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder but add only a tablespoon at a time. Eventually, add the vanilla extract. (if you use a vanilla bean, split it down its length and scrape out the seeds from half a bean);
- Beat on medium speed with the wire whip attachment until you have very stiff shiny peaks; it usually takes 2-3 minutes after adding the sugar. If the tip of the egg whites can stand straight up, the mixture is ready. Don’t over beat your batter either. Once you get stiff peaks, stop.
- Fold in the hazelnuts and almonds with an upward movement in order to not deflate the meringue;
- Put the mixture in a heat proof bowl over boiling water. Stir every few minutes or so for about 15 minutes or until it sets;
- Remove it from the heat and shape the cookies. Use mini-paper cups and put a dollop of dough into each paper cup. Use two teaspoons because the dough is quite sticky;
- Bake on parchment-lined trays at 250°F (121°C) on the medium-high rack (they must get dry but not burn) for about 35 minutes;
- Then decrease the temperature to 200°F (100°C) and change to a convention oven (if your oven has this function) and let them dry for about 20 minutes with the oven door half-closed. The cookies must be light and very dry;
- Take the cookies out of the oven and let them cool down completely. Close your eyes and take your first bite. So what is your initial impression?
A few variations
- You can’t imagine how exquisite unsalted pistachios are in these cookies. Or use your imagination and try this recipe with any unsalted nuts. Chop them coarsely, and your cookies will be super crunchy. You can also try mixing a few kinds of nuts.
- For a little bit of spice, add cinnamon along with the vanilla.
How you can store your ugly but good delights?
Store your “ugly but good” cookies in an air-tight container for up to 10-15 days. Don’t freeze them as they will lose their natural taste and crunchiness.