Something miraculous occurs to me every time I taste a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. I fall into a sensory overload, remembering the days of my childhood when I felt comforted and safe, as the warm smell of roasted nuts greeted me at the kitchen door, and adventurous summers of my early teenage years when the boys vied for my attention bribing me with boxes of Eurocream, a Serbian version of Nutella. Tthe aftermath was not as romantic, as I gained ten pounds in one month; but, oh, it was so well worth it!)
Both my mother and grandmother were talented bakers. When the holiday season started in Fall, they would put away their differences and join elbows in order to create the tastiest tiny morsels in town. Each celebration ended with vintage platters lined with dozens of perfectly shaped desserts, small enough to fit into your mouth in one ladylike bite, and allowing you to taste as many without feeling like you were overindulging.
For days, my sister, my brother, and I would be tempted by warm and comforting smells coming from the oven, as the rows of sweets multiplied on the tables throughout the house. We raced Father for the scraps, the cut-off edges, and occasional slightly burned and misshapen specimens. We begged Mother to pass us a few bites behind her back, risking Njanja’s wrath after her usual daily counting duty, but were able to fully enjoy the offerings only after the guests have gone home, leaving us more than enough sweet bounty for several days to come.
I never had a favorite, but throughout the years, a few desserts rose above the others and I reluctantly started to make them in my own kitchen, wanting my girls to experience at least a small part of my excitement. The two younger ones have never met Njanja, and visited Mother only in the summer. They learned to appreciate their grandmother’s culinary skills, but did not have a chance to try her petit fours first hand. My baking skills cannot compare to hers, but they don’t know that, as all they know are the stories.
I have mastered a few of Njanja’s and Mother’s recipes in the last twenty years and even though I know very well how tedious and tiring the whole process will be, I make the sweets nevertheless, feeling the connection to these formidable women who shaped me, knowing that I’ll see the smiles of enjoyment on my children’s faces.
One of their favorites has always been the Indianers, hazelnut shortbread sandwich cookies with custard and chocolate ganache. I have tried to figure out why they were named Indianers, and the only explanation that comes to mind is that the top, dipped in dark ganache, looks like an Indian’s head wrapped in a turban. Almost.
I made Indianers for our annual Food Bloggers of Los Angeles group cookie exchange meeting. As they yield a lot, I took a couple of dozen to a Bunco game, and it made me feel good when they disappeared instantly. My blogger friends seemed to enjoy them as well, and I felt really proud of myself, knowing that I am continuing the tradition, without betraying the ardor, skill, and creativity of my mother who tried to teach us to strive for the best, to challenge ourselves, and to be kind and giving to the people around us.
INDIANERS – HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD SANDWICH COOKIES WITH CUSTARD AND CHOCOLATE GANACHE
- ¾ cups (200gr) sugar
- 2 sticks (300gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks
- 8 oz (250gr) roasted hazelnuts, ground
- 1 ¼ cups (300gr) all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- ¾ cup (12 Tbsp) sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3 sticks (350gr) unsalted butter
- 6 oz bitter-sweet chocolate
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp milk
Cream sugar and butter with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add egg yolks, one by one, until mixed in. In a separate bowl stir together ground hazelnuts and flour. Stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well combined. Flatten into a disc and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
On a lightly floured surface flatten the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick. Cut small circles using 1-inch cookie cutter (or a metal top of a booze bottle, as my mother would use). Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Whisk the eggs and egg whites together until foamy and light. Add the sugar and stir in a double boiler on low heat until thickened, 20-30 minutes (a wooden spoon would leave a trail when dragged on the bottom of the pot). Let the custard cool completely and only then whip the butter in.
In a double boiler melt chocolate and butter. Stir in the milk.
Place about ½ tsp of filling on top of one cookie. Form a pyramid of filling in the center of the cookie using the spoon, place another cookie on top and press lightly to evenly disperse the custard.
Line the assembled sandwich cookies on a cookie sheet.
When all the cookies have been put together, dip each one in ganache, making sure that only the top part is covered with chocolate. Place the cookies on a tray and let them cool. Keep in the fridge for 1 week, or freeze for several months in an air-proof container.