Christmas Treats in Piedmont:
Baci di Dama Hazelnut Cookies

Last Christmas, since I could not make it back to America for the holidays, I decided to head north of Rome to Turin to visit my Italian family. Even though I call these people my aunts, uncles and cousins, in reality, they are the family of my great-grandmother’s stepbrother. Now, after a few years of knowing these no-longer new relatives, I found myself in the grocery store with my cousin Giovanni, shopping for Christmas Eve dinner. As we began to look for the ingredients for our dinner, I realized that I needed to find a small gift for a friend, preferably something local from my trip.

Nocciole IGP Hazelnuts from PiedmontHazelnuts from Piedmont, which are legally protected as Nocciole del Piemonte IGP, are among the best in the world and a common ingredient in many local desserts and confectionery products. © Consorzio Turistico Langhe Monferrato Roero.

I began looking for cookies made especially in Piedmont, which is home to some of the best nocciole (hazelnuts) in the country. I quickly found two kinds of hazelnut cookies: noccioline and baci di dama. Noccioline are cookies no larger than a small button, which are hazelnut based, hence the name "small hazelnuts". They are to hazelnuts what an amaretti cookie is to almonds. But for me the more interesting of the two - both visibly and in the name - were the baci di dama or hazelnut butter cookies, sandwiched around chocolate hazelnut spread: a kind of Italian Oreo.

The name translates to "lady kisses" and has a history which is a bit vague. Some say that the two cookies pressed together look like two mouths kissing. Others claim that they resemble the mouth of a dame; traditionally dames were accustomed to not opening their mouths while kissing as that was seen as crude.

Baci from Tortona vntage postcardBaci di Dama first appeared in the pastry shops of Tortona, a small town in the province of Alessandria, in the second half of the 19th century. The Piedmont region has recently added Baci di Dama di Tortona to its official registry of Prodotti Agroalimentari Tradizionali (traditional gourmet products), while the local community has been promoting them with vintage-style handouts like this postcard. © Dertona Eccellenze.

Luckily, when I told him the idea, Giovanni immediately decided that we would not buy these cookies but instead we would make them at home for part of our Christmas Eve dinner. We finished at the grocery store and headed home to start baking.

The rest of the day was filled with cookie making and preparations for Christmas dinner. Once our baci di dama were baked, cooled and filled with the Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread), I was able to try one. They were delightfully packed with hazelnut flavor, as there is almost as much hazelnut flour as regular flour in the recipe.

A few days later I headed back to Rome with a few baci di dama wrapped and tucked in my purse for the ride home and a new dessert recipe. Being a chocolate chip cookie lover myself, finding an Italian cookie that makes the grade has been difficult. However it’s hard to stay away from hazelnut and chocolate.


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