April 14, 2011

Bocca di Nonna Cookies ("Grandmother's Kisses")

These have easily become my favorite cookies, and I think the folks I've made them for would agree (at least my husband does).  With just the right combination of chocolate, almonds, and hazelnut, this crunchy bite hits the spot.  I saw the recipe while flipping through my trusty Ultimate Cookie Book by Better Homes and Gardens, and it peaked my interest. 

I was curious what bocca di nonna meant so I googled it.  It's Italian for "Grandmother's kisses".  It then quickly took on sentimental value as I thought of my own maternal grandmother, and the way her kisses, sweet smile, and powerful prayers would move you in an instant.  She lost her battle to lung cancer and passed away six months ago. 

{ holding her great-granddaughter,
my niece.  photo by sun yun. }
It's still hard to believe she's not here.  She was an incredible influence and example in my life and still is.  I paid tribute to her in a eulogy given at her memorial service attended by hundreds who expressed their condolences.   She was greatly loved.  I realize how fortunate I was to share a good portion of my life with her.  She was there to see me graduate from high school, get my college degree, walk down the aisle to say "I do", and hold and kiss my two boys.  She was there for me through it all.

My entire family took the loss very hard.  It was painful watching her suffer in her last days as the cancer spread rapidly throughout her body.  Yet she remained resilient and filled with praise even to the end.  My sweetest memory of her last days occurred while she was in the ICU and had been unresponsive for over a week.  My mother, cousin, and I were in the room with her, and I softly sang "Amazing Grace" into her ears.  After a few stanzas, my mother jumped up from her seat and pointed at my grandmother's face.  The corner of her mouth had turned up ever so slightly.  It was the smile that brought me and my mother to tears.  I lovingly kissed my grandmother on the forehead knowing she was going home to see her heavenly Father soon.

I know for certain she still sends her kisses down from heaven, and one day, she'll adorn me with them again face to face.

So these cookies will hold a special place in my heart, because I'll think of her every time I make them.  I adapted the recipe a bit.  First I substituted white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour, and it tastes great.  I also used ground raw almonds instead of blanched.  To grind them, coarsely chop 1 1/2 cup whole almonds and then put them in a food processor or blender until they're finely ground. Finally, I used Nutella for the filling instead of the suggested earl grey ganache (although that sounds delightful and I'll have to give it a try).

These are very simple to make.  They're quite splendid on their own, but the Nutella takes it to a whole new level of sweet indulgence.

What recipe reminds you of your grandmother?

Bocca di Nonna Cookies with Hazelnut Filling
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
{Makes 24 cookie sandwiches; Prep time: 30 minutes; Chill time: 1 hour; Bake time: 12 minutes per batch}

2/3  cup white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
2  tablespoons Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3/4  teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2  cups finely ground raw almonds
Nutella spread for filling

  1. In a small bowl, stir together flour and cocoa powder; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.   Add sugar and vanilla.  Beat until light and fluffy, scraping side of bowl occasionally.  Beat in almonds.  Beat in flour mixture just until mixture is combined. Cover and chill dough about 1 hour or until it is easy to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil; set aside.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place balls about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet.  Press each ball to flatten slightly.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until firm.  Cool on cookie sheet on a wire rack.  Remove cooled cookies from cookie sheet. Spread about 1 teaspoon of the nutella on the flat side of one cookie and top with another cookie, making a sandwich.  Makes 24 sandwich cookies.
  5. Place sandwich cookies in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container; cover.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


  1. What a lovely post... You literally moved me to tears. My friend lost her mother 2 weeks ago and it's been hard to watch her deal with, then another friend lost her father - also to lung cancer. It's been a rough couple of weeks.
    I love the name of these cookies and think I just might make them for Easter. My son is a Nuttella-aholic and we will have both grandmothers here. What a perfect fit!! The photo of your grandmother holding the baby is precious.

  2. Kim - Losing a loved one is so hard. I'm sorry to hear about your friends' loss. My prayers are with them.

    My grandmother was the epitome of health. She was always careful about what she ate. Never smoked or drank. So we were surprised by her diagnosis.

    She lived a long and full life and for that I'm thankful.

    Your son will love these cookies. I made big batches to give to friends. They loved it, but my husband was none too happy with me for not saving him more. :) So I made another batch just for him.

  3. MUST bake those. Viva your lovely Grandma, thanks for sharing one of her gifts.

  4. I am sitting here holding back tears. What a thoughtful and beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. ♥

  5. This is such a beautiful post, it brought back memories of my own gram who passed away last year. She always used to make the best cherry crumble, I like to make it for my Dad when I visit home. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you for sharing... I have a grandmother who is really sick right now & this brought tears to my eyes... she is (though she can't cook now) an awesome cook, and I remember how much I loved her very simple but delicious Marie Biscuit fudge as a child. And her chewy date toffees! I think I will do a post about her and link it back to you! Thanks for inspiration! :)

    These cookies look absolutely decadent!

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    @Wilde in the Kitchen - I'm sorry from the loss of your grandmother. What a beautiful gift you give to your father when make her cherry crumble for him.

    @The Harried Cook - I'm sorry to hear your grandmother is ill. Seeing a loved one physically suffering has to be one of the most difficult things to endure. The fudge and toffee sound wonderful! I'd love to see the recipes. She will be touched by your post.

  8. rachel, this is such a sweet and lovely post... what a wonderful cookie to remember sweet memories of your grandmother. =)

    i would love to try this recipe with the earl grey ganache... i made earl grey salted caramel recently - i think that would be lovely too!

  9. Your site is beautiful. Love all your ideas.....

  10. wow rachel. you always have such poignant life stories. a hug and a prayer.

    the cookies look bakery worthy. when are you going to open one up? :)

  11. Rachel, what a lovely tribute to your grandmother! The photo you have posted of her is beautiful too. Losing someone you love is never easy, but it's nice that you have so many years of memories with her to look back on!

    These cookies look absolutely delicious... can't go wrong with Nutella! I think of my grandmother when I make Italian Wedding Cookies, years ago she gave me the recipe but forgot to put sugar - and I didn't notice. So the first time I made them they came out AWFUL! But she is charmingly absentminded like that, so I always smile when I think of those cookies :)

  12. Beautiful cookies! The Nutella filling is perfect.

  13. wow This looks grand! Rich, and so nutella!

  14. What a beautiful post! I lost my nan to cancer a few years back and baking in general always reminds me of her. My first memories of being in the kitchen were baking with my nan. I can't even tell you how many cakes we made over the years! Your cookies are a lovely tribute to your grandmother.

  15. I love that picture of your grandmother and baby, it's so sweet, and she looks so happy. This is a beautiful cookie to remember your grandmother. The ingredients are so simple, and yet the results are spectacular.

  16. These look delicious! I will definitely have to try them. And what a moving tribute to your grandmother! I found myself tearing up reading about you and your mom singing to her in her last days. I had a similar experience with my mom. I'm always amazed at the ways that music, especially beloved old hymns, touch people so deeply and profoundly. Again, beautiful post!

  17. my maternal grandmother passed away from cancer too. I know how you feel. This cookie recipe looks great. I love making cookies with chopped up nuts. It adds such great texture. And I love crispy, chewy, flat cookies in general. Thanks for posting. I'm gonna have to give this recipe a try.



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