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Hazelnut Baci di Dama sandwiched with plain chocolateUna versione italiana di questo post si trova qui.

Baci di Dama, or Lady’s Kisses, are a speciality of the Italian region of Piemonte. Crunchy and nutty, and sandwiched with chocolate, they are traditionally made with hazelnuts, but are also often made with almonds. I couldn’t decide which I fancied most, so I decided to try both.

The name derives from their supposed resemblance to a pair of lips preparing for a kiss. I have to say that I’m not too convinced by that at the best of times, but I certainly don’t think I would be rushing to kiss lips that looked like the biscuits I made. The hazelnut ones may have had something of the classic rounded shape, but reminded me more of Kermit the Frog than anything else, and the almond ones were distinctly flat, more like a sheepish smile than a pucker.

The Logo of Quanti Modi di Fare e RifareBut I had no doubts about their eating qualities. The hazelnut ones had a lovely nutty aroma and a satisfyingly crunchy texture, with the taste of chocolate praline, while the almond ones were more delicate, with a rich orangey flavour and undertones of vanilla and almond. They would seduce you from afar with their perfume alone.

To see how luscious these kissing lips can be, pop over to La Casa di Artù. Artù’s recipe was the subject of this month’s challenge for the Italian cooking group Quanti Modi di Fare e Rifare of which I have been delighted to be a member for almost a year now. My thanks to Artù and Mamma Angela for their recipe, and as ever to Anna and Ornella, the indefatigable organisers of Quanti Modi.

Hazelnut Baci di Dama

Adapted from Artù and Mamma Angela’s recipe. Artù used almonds, as she is allergic to hazelnuts (a great pity, given that she comes from Piemonte, the home of some of the best hazelnuts in the world!).

I followed David Lebovitz in using rice flour, which adds to the crunchiness of the biscuits and also makes them gluten-free.

Makes approximately 30

  • 125g toasted skinned hazelnuts (see note below)
  • 125g granulated sugar
  • 150g rice flour (or plain white flour)
  • A large pinch of fine sea salt
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • (Optional) 2 teaspoons of hazelnut liqueur (I used Fratello)
  • About 75g plain chocolate
  • 2 baking trays lined with baking parchment

Pulse the hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until they have a texture somewhere between fine sand and coarse polenta (the exact texture is not crucial). Go carefully, and stop if the mixture shows any signs of becoming oily.

Put into a bowl with the flour and salt then rub in the butter roughly. Add the liqueur (if using) then squeeze the mixture with your fingers until it comes together into a dough. You may need to add a little water. The dough will be more or less crumbly depending on how finely you ground the nuts.

Preheat the oven to 160C (adjust for fan).

Make little balls from the dough, about the size of a small marble (6-8g). Place them on the baking tray about 2cm apart.

Bake for 15- 20 minutes, until lightly coloured on top and golden brown at the base. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Allow it to cool and thicken up, then use small blobs of it to sandwich the biscuits together.

To skin and toast hazelnuts.

Toasted and peeled hazelnuts - it doesn't matter if some peel remainsHazelnuts are distinctly dull or even a bit unpleasant in their natural state, so I would definitely recommend skinning and toasting them.

Heat your oven to 180C (adjust for fan). Spread the nuts out on a baking tray and roast for about 10 minutes or so, or until the skins have darkened and cracked and the nuts themselves are a rich golden brown colour. Check them regularly as they can go quickly from well done to overdone and bitter.

Tip the nuts onto a tea towel and gather up the corners like a bag. Put your oven gloves on, hold the bag closed with one hand and rub vigorously with the other. This should remove most of the skins, but don’t worry if some skin remains or a few nuts refuse to be skinned at all. Pick the nuts out of the debris.

Almond and Orange Kisses

Orange and Almond Kisses - a variant on Baci di DamaThese have a lighter, more delicate texture than the hazelnut ones, and are deliciously flavoured and scented with orange, with subtle hints of vanilla and almond. I particularly like them sandwiched with white chocolate, but milk chocolate works well too. They are also very nice “au naturel”.

Makes about 35

  • 135g toasted blanched almonds (see note below) or toasted ground almonds
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 135g white flour
  • A large pinch of fine sea salt
  • 135g unsalted butter
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • (Optional) 1/4 teaspoon bitter almond extract
  • About 75g chocolate (milk or white)
  • 2 baking trays lined with baking parchment

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until you have a fine powder. Go carefully, and stop if the mixture shows any signs of going oily. If using ready ground almonds, simply mix them with the sugar.

Put into a bowl with the flour and salt then rub in the butter roughly. Add orange zest, vanilla extract and bitter almond extract (if using), then squeeze the mixture with your fingers until it comes together into a soft dough.

Pat the dough into a 2cm thick disk, wrap in cling film, and chill for about an hour.

Take pieces of dough the size of a small marble (6g) and form into balls. Place at least 2cm apart on the baking trays. Return the trays to the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 160C (adjust for fan).

Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured on top and golden brown at the base. Leave to cool for at least 5 minutes then transfer carefully to a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Allow it to cool and thicken up, then use small blobs of it to sandwich the biscuits together.

To blanch and toast almonds

Lightly toasted almondsUnlike hazelnuts, almonds are perfectly nice with their skins on and raw, but blanching (skinning) and toasting them does add something special to their flavour.

To skin the almonds, cover them with boiling water and leave for about 5 minutes. You will then be able to pop them out of their skins by squeezing them gently between your fingers.

To toast them, spread them out on a baking tray and put them in a preheated oven at 180C (adjust for fan) for 5-10 minutes, or until they are a light brown colour (not as dark as for hazelnuts). Check them regularly as they can go quickly from well done to overdone and bitter.

You can toast ground almonds in a similar way. They will need less time than whole nuts.

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