Little Jacks, French Cookies with Hazelnuts and Apricot Jam
I think there are certain indicators of fussiness. The number of porcelain figurines inhabiting a room, for instance. Or even more, a room full of porcelain that actually gets dusted. But in baking, if we were to measure fussiness by the number of times ingredients get passed through a fine-mesh sieve, these cookies would be the Jack and Belle Linskys of the baking world. (That is totally unfair, actually. Two years after her husband's death, Belle Linsky donated most of their vast art collection to the Met in 1982. And, while it does boast an insane collection of porcelain figurines, they also collected painting, furniture, objects d'art not made of porcelain, sculpture, jewelry, carpets, furniture...But man that room with all of those figurines is crazy, I'm telling you.)
But back to these cookies. First there's the issue of blanching the hazelnuts. In The French Cookie Book, Bruce Healy suggests toasting the nuts and then rubbing them against a fine-mesh sieve to remove the skins. Is this the easiest method? I'm not sure. But I've never found an effortless way to remove nut skins. Then there's the melting of the apricot jam, which gets pushed through a fine-mesh sieve in order to fully purée the fruit. And the making of the hazelnut/powder sugar mixture, where once the nuts and sugar are ground together they get sifted through, what else, but a fine-mesh sieve and reprocessed until not a lump remains. Even the flour should be sifted before being added to the batter.
But that tender texture you achieve through all of your sifting is, in the end, worth it. And anyway, these things can be done in steps, jams melted and powders ground far in advance of making the actual cookies. Traditionally, Little Jacks are meant to be shaped like little fingers. But I'm not a fan of piping cookie dough. So instead, I took little spoonfuls of dough and rolled them between my hands into little balls, which I flattened into little disks on the prepared backing sheets. Proving once and for all, that I am just not that fussy, and that I will never own a house full of porcelain.
By the way, you can tell from the small flecks of black that I also didn't bother removing all of the hazelnut skins, but settled for most instead. Think of it as extra fiber.
From Bruce Healy's wonderful The French Cookie Book
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cups hazelnuts
3/4 cups plus 4 teaspoons powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon strained apricot jam (instructions follow)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten, for wash
Preheat oven to 325F, and grease two baking sheets with your preferred method (butter or spray).
For the nuts:
Toast the hazelnuts in an oven, stirring occasionally, until the skins are dry and cracked, but the nuts are still white. This will take about 7 minutes, but it depends on the oven, so watch closely. Place the nuts in a sieve and, using a towel to protect your hand, rub them around so that the skin mostly fall off. Let the nuts cool.
Grind the nuts with the sugar in a food processor until well ground but not oily. Sift through a fine-mesh sieve, and re-grind the nuts that don't pass through. Put the entire mixture into a bowl and set aside.
For the apricot jam:
Use more jam than you will end up needing, because the volume will reduce, but not a ton. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the jam, stirring with a wooden spoon. Pass the jam through a fine mesh sieve to purée the fruit. Discard the thick bits that don't make it through. Return the jam to the pan and, warm it gently over low heat so that it thickens slightly if needed. It should remain smooth and spreadable. Set aside.
For the cookies:
Place the butter in a small, stainless-steel bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon, setting it over low heat if needed. Beet until its smooth, white and creamy. Stir in the hazelnut mixture, followed by the egg, then the vanilla and jam. Sift the flour over the top, and stir it in.
Roll the dough into small balls between the palms of your hands, and flatten into little disks on the prepared baking sheets. Brush the cookies with a bit of the egg wash. Bake, one sheet at a time, for about 14 minutes, until the bottom is browned, but the top is still light.
Cool on a wire rack and enjoy.