Brutti ma Buoni alla Milanese (Hazelnut paste cookies)


For July and August, The Cookbook Guru is showcasing the book, The Italian Baker, by Carol Field.  Early in July, I checked out the book and spotted this recipe.  I was attracted because it required 8 (or 9) egg whites.  If there is one ingredient that I covet in a recipe as much as marmalade, it’s egg whites.  I, usually, have 15-20 in the freezer.

Even though I identified this recipe early in July, I got it into my head that Sandra, from Please Pass the Recipe, had already posted it so I put the idea of making them on the back burner. But, last night, I checked Sandra’s blog.  Her post was on Ossi du Mordere so I decided to give Carol Field’s Brutti ma Buoni recipe a bash.

The recipe is deceptively simple.  It consists of hazelnut meringue which is cooked in a saucepan before being baked.  I have never come across this technique before, so I was intrigued.  I must say, the biscuits taste absolutely fabulous.   Maus and I haven’t stopped eating them since they came out the oven but … I did say “deceptively simple“.

Once the meringue is made, it is transferred to a saucepan and cooked over a very low heat for 10 minutes.  Ms Field didn’t say whether to stir the mixture or not.  I, instinctively, wanted to stir it, so I did.  After I made the biscuits, I went on-line to check other versions of this recipe and they require the mixture to be stirred constantly, therefore, stir the mixture whilst it is cooking.

Ms Field advised “Initially the mixture will soften and then, as it cooks, it should come together in a single, although not well defined, lump.  It is done when it is light brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan.”

I cooked the mixture for 10 minutes and nothing happened except it was sticking to the bottom of the pan.  As there had been no transformation, I kept cooking and stirring.  After another 10 minutes, the mixture had coloured a little but nothing else had happened.  I was getting nervous: it was sticking very badly and I didn’t want to waste the mixture, so I turned off the heat.  As mentioned above, my biscuits taste absolutely fabulous and are chewy (which they are supposed to be) so I think I must have been just about there.  The on-line recipe I found said to cook the mixture for 20 minutes until it doesn’t stick to the pan.  Mine was sure sticking.

If anyone has made these biscuits and can give me more details of what is supposed to happen, I would love to hear from you.  I will definitely be making these again but I would love a little more guidance on what to expect.

004copy1Ms Field requires the hazelnuts to be “chopped to the size of fat rice grain“.  I have a wonderful technique (if I say so myself) for chopping nuts all the same size.  It is only for the anally retentive but it works a treat.  I coarsely chop the nuts then put them into a colander.  I give the nuts a good swirl and those that don’t fall through the holes, I chop again. I keep doing this until all the nuts fall through the holes.

The recipe calls for toasted and skinned hazelnuts.  I buy mine already toasted and skinned but, if you have raw ones, don’t despair.  Spread the nuts out on an oven tray and put them into a preheated oven (180°C) until they start to colour and smell wonderful (about 10 minutes).  Tip the nuts onto an old tea towel and wrap them up.  Rub like mad, then tip the nuts into a colander.  Give them a good shake to encourage   the skins to fall through the holes.  You are now in business.  Don’t worry if all the skins have not come off.


  • 8 or 9* large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 240g sugar
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped to the size of fat rice grains.

*see below


  1. Preheat your oven to 150°C.  Line a baking tray (or 2, if you have a 60cm oven) with baking paper.
  2. Beat 8 of the egg whites in an electric mixer until they form soft peaks.
  3. Gradually add the sugar.  Continue beating until the peaks are stiff and shiny.
  4. Add the vanilla extract.
  5. Fold in the nuts.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. (Check out the commentary above because this is where I started to flounder.)
  7. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared baking tray.
  8. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes (as mine were browning a bit too much, I turned the oven down to 125°C).
  9. Let the biscuits sit in the cooling oven for 10 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven and place on cake rack to cool.

*Ms Field advised that if the mixture becomes dry and crumbly during the 10 minute cooking, add the last egg white, a bit at a time, to moisten it.  There is no suggestion that this egg white should be beaten but you’d think it should be.  I was not faced with the dilemma of what to do because nothing much happened to my mixture.


23 thoughts on “Brutti ma Buoni alla Milanese (Hazelnut paste cookies)

  1. These cookies look delicious and I always have spare egg whites in the freezer too. Interesting that you cook the meringue. Love your tip for keeping the nuts a uniform size 🙂

    • Hi Moya. The biscuits were lovely but I am looking for another version of the recipe. I want more details. Shazzameena suggested cooking the meringue over boiling water. That may solve the sticking problem.

  2. I cooked Anna Del Conte’s version of these a few years ago. I have a vague memory of stirring the meringue mixture in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water…for about 10 minutes. It didn’t stick – though it didn’t come away from the sides of the bowl either – but it did become thicker and glossier. I took them into my Italian class the next day and the teacher was impressed…so they mustn’t have been too far off the mark. It’s always hard to tell when you’re cooking something you’ve never cooked (or eaten) before!

    • Hi Shazzameena. Thanks for the tip. Cooking the meringue over boiling water would reduce the risk of it burning. I will do that next time.

      • Hi Glenda, I would have loved to send you a copy of Anna Del Conte’s recipe, but the book I own is on the other side of the world, currently! But if I can remember when I’m next there, I’ll send you the copy 🙂 Marcella’s Hazan also has a recipe in her book (she calls the Piedmontese Biscuits, I think) but those were more like flat cookies, and didn’t involve the heating of the meringue mixture.

    • Hi Sandra, It was a miracle. I have no idea what was supposed to happen or what they were supposed to look like. Luckily all was well and I didn’t waste all those hazelnuts.

  3. I’m excited! I’ve had CF’s book on hold from Library for weeks and I picked it up today. Gee it’s a tomb but looks great. Can’t wait to get into trying a few things.

  4. Glenda, I don’t get it either. Go to the trouble of whisking egg whites to soft peaks then cook them? Listen, can I come over for afternoon tea?

  5. I like Carol Field and enjoy her books, but it’s annoying when recipes are not thorough. Love, love, love hazelnuts, and chewy biscuits, so might give this a go at some stage. Happy baking, Glenda x

  6. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Glenda has shared another great Italian biscuit recipe with us from The Italian Baker. Gluten Free and using up those excess egg whites they sound fabulous for anyone that is a hazelnut lover. Make sure you check out the post.

    Happy Reading and Happy Baking,


  7. Another great post from The Italian Baker, thank you Glenda. I do love how the book is testing our skills but also giving us some beautiful results. Reposting this now for us 🙂

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