I’m back in Pittsburgh, everyone! But, it’s always such a thrill to go home. Although, Pittsburgh is my new hometown, my true home is still Transylvania; perhaps, no place will ever change that. And this year was even more exciting to be home since it coincided with my birthday. Yes, I was home for my birthday!
I was born a couple of hours after what we consider in the Romanian tradition to be the first day of spring. On March 1st, Romanians celebrate the first day of spring and the Mărţișor, an old custom when boys and men alike reward girls and women with a small token tied with a red and white thread. Traditionally, women wear this symbol of spring as a brooch for the entire month. Although, I was born on the second day of spring, this little trinket came with every birthday gift that I received growing up. And in all honesty, I always loved that and the extensive collection of mărţișoare that I inevitably ended up with.
While home, I was showered with mărţișoare and spoiled with tons of delicious food. On the days prior to my arrival, I gave my grandma Vicki a comprehensive list of dishes that absolutely had to grace my lips while home. And this year, the menu included these Nutella Filled Cookies also known in Romanian as Ișlere. It had been a very long time since I got my hands on these little sandwich cookies. Needless to say, I missed them greatly and this was the perfect occasion to reacquaint myself with them. Of course, there was the triumphant and impossible to ignore birthday cake – actually cakes – but these buttery-chocolate-packed-macaron-look-alike cookies were nothing short of spectacular!
Straight from the oven, these cookies are delicate, lemony, nutty, and pleasantly sweet; but once a generous layer of Nutella is sandwiched between them and the top dipped in a puddle of shiny semi-sweet chocolate ganache the rich indulgence takes center stage. Peanut butter could also work wonders snuggling between the thin rounds, but I’m more of a Nutella girl and on my palate the hazelnut spread will always feel unequivocally better.
I have plenty of stories to tell and recipes to share with you from my trip, what we cooked and baked with grandma Vicki, but for now I’ll let you enjoy these chocolate gems, which would look beautiful on the Easter table.
By Simply Romanesco inspired by Grandma Vicki
Makes: About 15 filled cookies
· 150 grams (5 ¼ ounces; about 1 cup) all-purpose flour
· 150 grams (1 stick and 3 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
· 80 grams (2 ¾ ounces; ½ cup) confectioners’ sugar
· 80 grams (2 ¾ ounces) toasted ground walnuts
· Lemon zest from one lemon
· 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
· 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
· 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
· 2/3 cup heavy cream
· Fleur de sel (optional)
In a large bowl, combine the flour, butter, sugar, walnuts, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and mix them together using clean hands. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add a little bit of flour (1 teaspoon at a time – 2-3 teaspoons) until the dough comes together in a ball but is still soft. Put the dough on a plate and refrigerate for 2 hours.
In the meantime, line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and keep close at hand.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Divide the dough in two. Dust the rolling pin and working surface with some flour and gently roll out the dough into a ¼-inch thick sheet. Using a 2.5-inch cookie cutter, cut out the dough and gently transfer the rounds to the baking sheets (use a knife if the dough sticks to the working surface), spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Once the cookies have cooled completely, spread half of them (on the flat side) with Nutella (about 1 Tablespoon each) and top them with the remaining cookies (flat side down).
Place the chocolate chips in a small bowl. Combine the heavy cream and the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips. Using a spoon, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Dip the tops of each sandwiched cookie in the ganache and transfer to a plate or baking sheet. Allow the cookies to set at room temperature for 20 minutes. Optional: sprinkle the cookies with fleur de sel.
Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)