Bay Area chef and teacher, Jessica Theroux spent a year traveling throughout Italy, cooking and talking with Italian grandmothers from whom she learned the true art of food, family, and love. Her cookbook, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, features over 100 delicious recipes, stunning photography, and the poignant stories of 12 grandmothers from nine regions, each of whom welcomed Theroux into her kitchen to share their wisdom and a soulful meal. Along the way, she meets Armida in Lunigiana and her Pasta di Farro with walnut-parsley sauce; Maria in Sicily and her homemade Ricotta; and Usha’s dense, flaky hazelnut roll in Le Marche.
Usha’s Hazelnut Roll
“This hazelnut roll changed my life. Upon first bite, it revealed itself to be the nuttiest, flakiest, most comforting baked good I have ever eaten….It marked the beginning of my learning about how love can transform food and cooking, and it remains one of my favorite things to eat. I find a slice of this roll to be quite perfect for breakfast, with tea or coffee mid-afternoon, or as an after-dinner dessert. The roll is rich and dense, and will easily feed many, making it an ideal treat for a large group.”
For the dough:
- 10 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 10 Tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) frozen unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp. milk, water, or cream (I used almond milk)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the hazelnut filling:
- 2 egg whites
- 1 egg yolk
- 6 Tbsp. water (I did not put water, the filing would be too runny)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4-5 drops bitter almost extract, or 3 bitter almonds (optional)
- 2 cups toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped or ground into rough pieces
For the glaze:
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp milk
Preheat the oven to 385 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
To prepare the pastry dough, mix together the flour and baking powder, and place them in a mound on a clean surface. Cut the frozen butter first into thin slabs, then long rectangles, and finally into very small cubes, about 5 to 10 millimeters. It is easiest to do this if you coat the butter and knife with some of the flour; this prevents the knife from sticking too much. Spread the butter cubes around the periphery of the flour mound. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the sugar, egg, milk, and vanilla extract to the well. Scramble these together using a fork, then slowly incorporate the surrounding flour, using the fork to stir it in. When the mixture becomes too thick for the fork, use a large knife to cut in the rest of the flour and butter. Continue cutting the dough together, remembering to scrape under and turn over the dough during this process. Do this for a couple of minutes, until the dough is in the form of large, crumbly lumps. Wash and flour your hands. Briefly knead the dough until it is no longer sticking strongly to the board. If the dough is wet, feel free to sprinkle on a little extra flour. Do not over-knead. You still want to see the little pieces of butter in the dough; this will produce a flaky crust. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.
While the dough chills, make the hazelnut filling; Whisk together the egg whites, yolk, sugar, and bitter almond. Stir in the chopped toasted hazelnuts. After the dough has chilled, sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour onto your work surface, to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll the dough out to form a large rectangle, about 2 feet long and 1 foot wide. Remember to scrape underneath the dough, and flip it over a few times; sprinkle a little flour on the surface each time you do this, again to keep the dough from sticking. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, to about 1/2 inch from the edges. Roll the long side of the dough over itself, using a knife to scrape under the dough if it is sticking. Roll all of the dough to form a long log. Carefully transfer the log to the baking sheet, forming it into a half circle. Fold each end of the dough over itself, pressing it together to close. Using a knife, cut a zigzag along the top of the roll. Whisk together the egg yolk and teaspoon of milk; lightly brush this over the top of the roll. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the roll is crispy and dark golden brown on top. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.