Baci di Cioccolato
Chocolate Kisses from Piemonte
Baci di Dama are among of my favorite Italian cookies, and an uber-traditional sweet from Piemonte. The name translates to Lady’s Kisses, and they are a perfect way to give anyone a tender kiss of nuts and chocolate. Wrapped in a pretty box with colored tissue, I can’t imagine a more welcoming gift.
Even though Piedmont is known for its sought-after DOP hazelnuts, almonds play the starring role in these cookies, along with dark or milk chocolate, traditionally sandwiched in between them to create the “kiss.” Here at Babbo, I’ve kicked up the chocolate a notch by using it in the dough itself, giving our kisses a trademark intense color and rich chocolate flavor. They are a perfect addition to the assortment of biscottini we serve to every guest after dinner.
Adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from The Babbo Kitchen, by Gina DePalma
Makes approximately 5 dozen single cookies or 2 ½ dozen sandwiches.
To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast them until they are light golden brown and fragrant, about 14 to 16 minutes. Remove the almonds from the oven and turn it off the oven until you are ready to form the cookies. Allow the almonds to cool completely, then grind them in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar until they are finely chopped.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and set aside.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until creamy and light, about 2 minutes, then beat in the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients, followed by the ground almonds. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill the dough for about an hour, or until it is firm enough to handle.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two cookies sheets with non-stick cooking spray or butter, or line them with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 3 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others wrapped and refrigerated. Roll each portion of dough into a small log about ¾ of an inch in diameter. Cut each log into ½ inch lengths and roll each piece into a ball, then roll the balls in granulated sugar to coat them completely. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spaced half an inch apart. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough.
Bake the cookies, rotating the pans 180° to ensure even browning, until they are puffed and cracking slightly on top, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool for 1 or 2 minutes on the pan, then use a spatula to gently remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cookies are cooling, make the ganache filling. Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, and pour it over the chocolate and butter. Allow the mixture to sit for a few moments, then whisk until smooth and glossy. Whisk in the optional cognac or liqueur. Allow the ganache to cool, whisking it occasionally, until it is firm enough to pipe.
To assemble the baci, pair up the cookies according to size. Turn one cookie upside down, and using a pastry bag fitted with a plain or star tip, pipe a small amount of ganache onto the flat side, then place the bottom of another cookie on the ganache to form a sandwich. The two round tops of the cookies should be facing outwards. Allow the ganache to firm up, then transfer the baci to a serving plate. The cookies may be stored, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container kept in a cool place, for up to 3 days.