Not a tough Nutella to crack

Nutella-stuffed Brown Butter Cookies

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I don’t know if there’s a valid evolutionary explanation for why stuffed things are so much more appealing than their unstuffed counterparts.  Perhaps it’s the mystery of the unseen waiting inside, or maybe it’s the fact that stuffing something makes it BIGGER (and bigger is better).  Who knows?  I’ll end my speculations here, without delving into any Freudian fetal fantasies to explain this phenomenon; I’ll just keep enjoying cheese-stuffed chicken breasts, chickpea-stuffed eggplant, and, of course, these Nutella-stuffed Brown Butter Cookies, no questions asked.

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I lucked out by happening upon a ridiculous Nutella sale at my local grocery store last week, so, I, of course, cleared the shelf.  The world of Nutella-centric baked goods is now my oyster (as is the world of spoonfuls-of-Nutella-like-it’s-my-job).
A cupboard full of Nutella certainly sets the scene for some odd kitchen conversations.  Tom informed me that he always thought Nutella contained tofu, though he couldn’t recall what planted this absurd notion initially.  As a result, he had never actually tried Nutella (out of sheer fear), so it took a careful inspection of the ingredients panel on the label before Tom felt safe enough to try a cookie.  The problem then became STOPPING Tom from eating ALL of the cookies, since I had made them for a housewarming gift, not a Tomwarming gift.

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Freezing the blobs of Nutella before encasing them in this rich, fragrant, mocha-infused dough, makes assembly so much easier (i.e. less messy).  Also, slightly wetting your hands with cold water allows you to roll the dough into smooth balls without sticking to your sweaty palms.  Just make sure your hands aren’t sopping wet, or else weird things will happen to the dough.

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For ideal cookie form and flavor, I strongly recommend adhering to the chill-times specified in the recipe, but, if your feeling the daredevil (or are pressed for time), a shortcut here and there shouldn’t be lethal.  My best advice is to plan out your cookie-making process in advance (preferably when you already have other cookies in the house; this way, you won’t be as tempted to cheat on the chill times!  Baking cookies when your cookie jar is totally empty is just like grocery shopping on an empty stomach — both are recipes for bad decisions, eternal regrets, and cataclysmic disasters.  Luck favors the prepared!

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Nutella-stuffed Brown Butter Cookies

Yield:  ~17 cookies
1 stick unsalted butter, browned & cooled back to semi-solid state (~20 minutes in fridge)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup loosely-packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg, room temp
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + extra for sprinkling
1 tablespoon 2% milk
4.4 ounce chocolate bar (I used a dark chocolate sea salt bar), very finely chopped/grated
~17 teaspoons Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
After browning the butter, and setting it in the fridge to cool, stir together both sugars and the espresso powder in a large mixing bowl, and set aside to allow the espresso to perfume the sugar (~20 minutes).  Using the paddle attachment for your stand mixer or a hand-held mixer, cream together the sugar mixture and the cooled brown butter, until pale and fluffy (~3 minutes).  Scrape down sides of bowl, and add vanilla and egg, beating for an additional 3 minutes.  In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, use a fork to combine and aerate the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.  With mixer on low, gradually add half of the dry ingredients, mixing only until barely combined.  Add milk, then remaining dry ingredients.  Stop mixing once dry ingredients are JUST combined.  Fold in dark chocolate shavings, cover dough tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.  Scoop out Nutella by round teaspoonfuls (~17, but maybe do a few extra, just in case…you can always eat the extras!), placing them on a wax-paper-lined plate, and freeze for 1 hour (convenient how that’s the same amount of time that you need to chill the dough!).
Remove dough from fridge and Nutella blobs from freezer.  Use a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop to scoop out dough.  With dough still in scoop, press a frozen Nutella blob into the middle of the scooped dough, pressing to submerge blob in the dough as much as possible without pressing through to the bottom of the scoop.  Place a small amount of dough over any exposed Nutella.  Lightly dampen your hands with cold water, then dispense scoop of dough into your palm, and roll into a coherent ball (dampening your hands keeps the dough from getting sticky as you roll).  Repeat with remaining dough and Nutella blobs, rewetting your hands as needed.  Place stuffed and rolled dough balls on a wax-paper-lined plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in fridge for 24-48 hours.
Remove plate of chilled dough balls from fridge, and allow oven to preheat to 375 F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  Place 6-8 widely-spaced dough balls per sheet, sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt, and bake for 8-9 minutes (rotating sheets after 5 minutes).  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  Cookies are done once bottoms have JUST started to turn golden-brown, and tiny microcracks start to form on the surface of the dough (see pictures).  Allow baked cookies to sit on hot sheets for 5 minutes (cookies will deflate and firm up), then remove to wire racks for complete cooling.  Cooled cookies may be stored in airtight containers, at room temp, for up to 5 days…if they last that long 😉
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