If you grew up in a traditional Italian household, you're probably already familiar with the longstanding holiday tradition of baking brutti ma buoni cookies. The name sounds glam, but it actually translates to "ugly but good." That's because the recipe's end result certainly isn't beautiful: lumpy and misshapen is more like it. But the cookies? They're oh so good, and utterly addictive.
"As any lover of Italian baking will tell you, they're indescribably delectable," star chef Rocco DiSpirito tells The Feast. "They're nutty and toasty on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside."
We've rounded up some of our favorite examples of these traditional holiday treats, including DiSpirito's own recipe.
1. Make Rocco DiSpirito's lighter brutti ma buoni
His recipe is made with pine nuts and a dash of family inspiration, and the result (pictured below) looks a little tidier than most versions of the cookie. "My brother, my sister, and I grew up with all kinds of brutti cookies. We ate them like gumdrops," he says.
Yield: 24 cookies (24 servings)
Preparation time: 5 minutes hands-on; 20 minutes cook and cool.
4 tablespoons agave nectar
4 packets Truvia
½ teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup almond flour
1 cup millet flour
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil ( or almond oil )
24 pine nuts
6 sprays extra virgin olive oil cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Add the agave, almond extract and truvia to a microwave safe bowl and cook on high until the mixture starts to bubble, about 40 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir to dissolve all of the Truvia then add the salt and oil and stir very well.
Add the flours and stir with a fork “ cutting in “ or smashing the flour into the wet ingredients on the side of the bowl until you have damp sandy clumps that barely stick together. Separate the mixture into four piles in the bowl.
Scoop up one of the piles and press it together in your hands and make 6 even balls. Repeat with the other piles to yield 24 balls. With your thumbs, press each ball down flat to about 1 inch tall. Place 1 pine nut on top of each cookie and repeat with the other 3 piles. Spray a cookie sheet with the cooking spray and place each cookie on the tray and bake at 350 F until the cookies brown on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip each cookie gently with a spatula and cook on the top side until the pine nut browns, about 4 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and place them on a rack to cool. Let them cook for at least 5 minutes to allow them to crisp up.
Tip: These cookies do not spread out while cooking like a conventional fat-laden batter, so you will need to shape them well before baking.
2. Opt for bigger, chunkier nuts for a deliciously ugly cookie
If you're looking for more of that ever-coveted "brutti" (ugly) appearance, you can always add bigger, chunkier nuts into your cookie batter instead of layering them on top.
3. Add cinnamon to make a spiced version
"On the second date with my now wife, I made a full Italian dinner and finished it off with brutti ma buoni," says New York City-based caterer and personal chef-to-the-stars Chris Nirschel, of his lightly spiced version. "They're a fun, easy-to-make cookie that use few ingredients, leaving no room for mistakes."
His recipe is simpler and a little fattier, too. But isn't that the point of a cookie?
Makes about 20 cookies
8 oz hazelnuts
1 ½ confection sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
2 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Large egg white
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Spread hazelnuts on baking sheet and toast for 12-15 minutes. Nuts should be fragrant when done. Transfer hazelnuts to a kitchen towel or bowl, let them cool and rub them together to remove skins.
In a food processor pulse hazelnuts and sugar and salt until finely chopped. Scrape into a medium bowl.
Stir in egg whites and vanilla.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spoon tablespoon-size mounds of dough onto baking sheet 1 inch apart.
Bake in the center of the oven for about 13-15 minutes, depending on whether you like them chewy or crispy.
Let the cookies cool before serving.
4. Yes, you can always add chocolate
The debate seems to be open when it comes to exactly what the right recipe is for these little nuggets of happiness, but there's a significant portion of the brutti cookie camp that prefers them flourless and loaded with chocolate or cocoa powder. Here's a recipe from Bell'Alimentio that shows you how to hop on board the ugly-chocolaty train.
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