Wow. This, my friends, is a cookie. Or a sandy, to be more precise. I knew from the ingredient list that they were gonna be awesome. Mind-blowing even. But I had no idea just how perfect they could be. They are buttery, spicy, sugary, salty, and packed with vanilla flavor, all with that grainy, nutty flavor of hazelnuts. They are hard and yet melt-in-your-mouth, not at all dry. They are sweet, but don’t take it overboard. This may just be the perfect cookie.
The idea came about because the world’s best boss brought me the longest, most fragrant, moist and fabulous vanilla beans, straight from Madagascar. I knew that I had to do something to thank him for thinking of me, and the only logical gift was of course some scrumptious dessert made with the fresh product. I scoured the internet, but didn’t find what I was looking for. I bookmarked several recipes for vanilla-poached pears, but that clearly wouldn’t transport well. But what would? Sandies of course!
I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to get the extra butter I’d need to make it happen. I looked up a classic shortbread recipe and instantly knew that without some other flavors, this vanilla bean would overpower my cookie. And what goes better with a sugary, buttery cookie base than cinnamon? And perhaps a bit of ground hazelnut would also help to mute the intense vanilla flavor, without taking away from it. And thus the cinnamon, hazelnut and vanilla bean sandies were born.
Four batches later (and several bites of dough in my belly), the sandies were ready to be gift-wrapped. Since one batch of these babies ended up yielding about 80-90 cookies, I decided that rather than make all of my colleagues jealous, I should probably make up a few gift packs. And so I did, eating one from time to time along the way, and smiling to myself in my vanilla-scented kitchen. Sometimes the most satisfying foods to make are the ones you give away!
3 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 C butter, room temperature
3/4 C sugar
3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C ground hazelnuts
2 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 T vanilla flavoring
1 large (or two small) vanilla beans, seeds scraped and removed
3 egg yolks
Start by preheating your oven to 325°. Cream the butter, sugars and salt for several minutes until well-combined and smooth. Add the egg yolks one by one, stirring after each addition. Add the vanilla flavoring and the vanilla bean, stir to combine. Gently stir in the cinnamon and hazelnuts. Start by adding 3 C of the flour all at once and mix, patiently, until dough begins to form. It will seem dry, but should come together in your hands. If the dough is oily, add the rest of the flour, a few spoonfuls at a time, until the dough can easily be handled.
Separate the dough into four equal portions. Using plastic film, roll out each portion into a log about 1 1/2-2 inches in diameter. Place each log in the fridge for at least 1 hour, longer if you can. You can also place them 5-10 minutes in the freezer to make cutting easier.
Once they’re ready, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and cut the logs into rounds about 1/3 inch thick. Place on the baking sheet, leaving an inch or so between each cookie. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and until the tops of the cookies are slightly firm but not hard. Remove from the oven, and from the baking sheet and cool on a cooling rack or on the countertop. The cookies will harden within about 10 minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.