A few years ago, we planted a couple of hazelnut trees. I didn't think much of it—they were given to me by a friend, as part of an effort to reintroduce native nut trees to Cape Cod. If we all plant a few in our yards, the idea goes, animals will help scatter the nuts, and over time, these perennial food sources will be reintroduced to our local woods. 

I hate nutella, the only food I've ever associated with hazelnuts. (Which is pathetic. I know!) I liked the idea of the nuts spreading, but it wasn't until I found a few growing on our one-year-old seedlings that I got excited about the idea of eating hazelnuts. And even then, we harvested the handful of nuts, cracked them, ate them, and quickly forgot. 

But in the summer of 2018, a friend was cleaning out her freezer and asked me if I could use a bag of hazelnut flour. Sure! I said, rule number one of that summer being: never turn down free food. It sat until the holidays untouched. Then last December, I volunteered to bake 75 cookies for the Tuesday night church supper in town. 

I thought about making my grandmother’s sugar cookies—rolling out dough and cutting it into shapes and baking them and icing them with cheerful white and green and red—but frankly, it was 8:30pm on a Sunday, and the thought of dusting the kitchen in flour just after I’d finished a deep clean made me want to sit down with a glass of eggnog and forget the whole thing. 

I poured the eggnog—just a small glass, to help with the thinking—and started wondering if I might be able to use that hazelnut meal. I thought about other favorite cookies from my grandmother’s kitchen: Raleigh Tavern gingerbread, orange drop cookies, Sue Wilson’s Scottish shortbread.  Shortbread! Shortbread is excellent with ground nuts. And you can roll it into a log and slice it—no flour and rolling pin. 

I abandoned my grandmother and Sue Wilson and went straight to the highly trusted resource that is Bob’s Red Mill. (Trusted? Well, sort of. But they do have an incentive to put out recipes we’d all make again.) I’m glad I did. It is difficult to go wrong shortbread, but this one was better than most. The cookies were sturdy and buttery, with just the right amount of give. 

Recently I've been doing a series of Local Food Reports and articles on the promise of tree crops (give a listen to this week's piece over here if you want to dive in). Max Paschall of Shelterwood Forest Farm, who I spoke with this week and last, is a big believer in the promise of hazelnuts. He thinks they could feed the world, as a staple crop for carbohydrates and oils. 

My trees are tiny; hazelnuts are not a big local staple right now in my yard or in the community at large. But I think it's just as important to start building demand and figuring out what to do with the local food of the future as it is to work within what's available right now. So—hazelnut shortbread! and happy, merry. See you in the promise of a new year. 


This recipe is adapted, slightly, from the folks over at Bob’s Red Mill. I compared the butter/sugar/flour ratio to my grandmother’s shortbread—hers had a bit more sugar, but otherwise they’re quite similar. The original of this recipe didn’t give quantities; this makes about 15-20 pieces of shortbread. 

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/8 teaspoon fine grain sea salt 
1/2 cup hazelnut meal 
1 cup all-purpose flour 

Cream the butter well in a stand mixer. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and continue to beat until well mixed. Add the hazelnut meal and then beat in the flour in several additions. Form the dough into a log. 

Here the recipe instructs us to wrap it in plastic wrap; I’d encourage you to invest in some Beeswrap (or make your own!), a reusable alternative. It’s made from beeswax, linen, coconut oil, and a few other natural ingredients. It costs more up front but less over the long run, it smells nice, it doesn’t infuse your food with a bunch of plastic toxins, and when you decide it’s tired and it’s time to throw it out in a few years you can use it as a fire starter or put it in the compost. Win-win-win-win! 

At any rate, protect your dough with whatever wrap you choose and chill it for at least 30 minutes or up to a few days. Cut it into 1/8-inch thick slices and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes. My oven’s wonky and the cookies are thin, so at the 8-10 minute mark start watching for golden edges like a hawk. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and then just try to show restraint. 


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.