High Country Baking: Hazelnut espresso crescents
High Country Baking
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
A classic in the world of cookies, that’s what crescents are; they’ve been an American favorite for decades.
This very-adult version features a sandy, almost-crumbly texture (contributed by the nuts) and a tantalizing, bittersweet taste (due to the contrast between the espresso and sugar). They’re delicious on their own and a wonderful companion for cup of coffee or a creamy dessert.
As the photo indicates, they can be topped in two ways, each with a different outcome: drizzling them with melted chocolate introduces a mocha taste and rolling them in the sugar mixture adds a distinct cinnamon flavor and increases their overall sweetness.
Be sure to spoon and level your flour when measuring it; too much flour will make the crescents hard and dry. Work the dough as little and as gently as possible to produce the desired texture and, to assure a pleasing taste, use high quality butter and fresh hazelnuts.
You can use hazelnut meal for this recipe instead of whole hazelnuts; use 1 ½ tablespoons less than half a cup and omit step 1.
Hazelnut Espresso Crescents
Yields 20 cookies
½ cup skinned whole hazelnuts
¼ cup superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 ½ -1 ¾ teaspoons espresso powder
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
Sugar topping, optional
1/4 cup superfine sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Chocolate topping, optional
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
¼ teaspoon mild vegetable oil
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees, spread the nuts on a cookie sheet, and bake until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Let them cool completely.
2. Pulse the cooled nuts and superfine sugar in a food processor until the nuts are ground. Add the espresso powder (1½ teaspoons for a mild, subtle taste, more for a stronger one), salt, and flour and pulse again, until combined. Cut the butter into ¼ -inch pieces, add them, and pulse only until a smooth dough forms. Dump it out onto a piece of waxed paper and gently knead it a few times. If the dough is too soft to work with, form it into a 6-inch disc, wrap it in the waxed paper, and refrigerate until it firms up.
3. Line a cookie sheet (if using the same one you baked the nuts on, make sure it’s cooled completely) with parchment paper. Break off pieces of the dough and roll them into balls that are slightly smaller than a Ping Pong ball (½-ounce each, if you have a scale). Roll each ball into a 3-inch-long rope with tapered ends and carefully bend it into a crescent shape. Place the crescents on the prepared baking sheet, about an inch apart. Lightly cover the cookies with a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper, and refrigerate the cookies, on the pan, until they’re quite firm, at least 30 minutes. While the cookies chill, preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center.
4. Remove the crescents from the ‘fridge and bake them until they’re set and start to color around the edges, around 20 minutes (the time will depend on how cold they are when placed in the oven).Cool them on a rack.
5. If you’re topping the cookies with cinnamon sugar, then combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and, while the cookies are still slightly warm, gently roll each one in it until coated; cool completely. If topping with chocolate, then melt the chopped chocolate in a microwave oven, at low temperature for 20-30 second bursts, until a few small lumps remain. Add the vegetable oil and stir until smooth and shiny. Drizzle decoratively over each crescent and allow the chocolate to set. The well-wrapped cookies will keep at cool room temperature for five days or freeze for 1 month.
This recipe is a variation of one published in Fine Cooking Magazine. Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, “Cookies in the Clouds” and “Baking Above It All” (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.