Meet some of the most unique cookies that hail from my childhood—walnut-shaped cookies called oreshki. Oreshki means “nuts” in Russian. In this particular case, it means “walnuts.” How are these cookies and my childhood related?
Well, long ago, when I was much younger and growing up in Azerbaijan, the country was part of the Soviet Union. Which means that I, just like all other Soviet-born and -grown people, was exposed to many Russian foods that traveled through the 15 republics and consequently, adopted by most.
Among them are sweets of all sorts, including these famous Russian cookies. Soviet Union is no more (viva la independencia!), but some Russian-imported foods are still common in Azerbaijan, and they are still loved and baked.
What’s so unique about these oreshki cookies? Everything. Their shape first and foremost. They are shaped like real walnuts! And then their filling. They are filled with luscious dulce de leche mixed with crunchy walnuts. And the shells combined with the filling yield that amazing taste. When you bite on the oreshki, first, you feel a pleasant crunch and wonder what it was, then the cookies melt in your mouth. Oh my! And they are so good with tea!
I recently served oreshki to my friends who had never seen or tried them before and they all said these cookies were indeed something unique and the filling was mystery to them. Blame the mystery, for the cookies soon became history (it rhymes!).
How is that walnut shape is achieved? For that, fist we make the “walnut” shell halves. The shells are stove-baked in a special mold called oreshnitsa (walnut-maker) in Russian. I brought mine from Baku. And it is made in Russia. Where to find oreshnitsa elsewhere? Do a google search for any of the following key words and you will find many places that sell it: oreshnitsa, Russian walnut cookie mold, or walnut-shaped cookie mold.
I think you are ready to bake your own oreshki and indulge in them, too. Let’s do it. No mysteries on my blog. Just tried and true recipes I am always happy to share with you.
Our tender dough is ready!
Walnut shells — baked!
Our luscious dulce de leche—walnut cream is ready, too.
Let’s stuff the shells and enjoy our oreshki!
“Oreshki” Walnut Cookies with Dulce de Leche
Makes about 60 cookies
Note: The shells in these cookies are rather crumbly in nature. There are also oreshki that have somewhat soft, cakey shells. I am yet to experiment with that particular recipe.
For the Filling:
Two 14-oz (397 g) cans dulce de leche
1/2 cup or more to taste, coarsely chopped walnuts
For the Shells:
3 cups all-purpose flour
9 ounces (250 grams) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature (do not melt!)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, whites separated from yolks
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/4 teaspoons baking soda
Make the Filling: Prepare your dulce de leche. Make sure to plan your time carefully as it takes 3+ hour with the cooling time to have the dulce de leche ready. Once your dulce de leche is cool enough, pour it into a bowl, add the walnuts, and stir to combine. Your filling is ready.
Make the Dough for the Shells:
Put the flour in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub with your fingertips to obtain fine crumbs. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine the sugar with the egg yolks and beat with a mixer on a medium speed a few minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy.
Separately whip the egg whites with the mixer until soft peaks form. Put the vinegar in a small bowl or a cup and sprinkle the baking soda on top, to dissolve it. Add the mixture to the egg whites, and gently stir to mix.
With the help of a spatula, transfer the egg whites to the egg yolk—sugar mixture and gently fold it in to blend. Do not use the mixer to do this!
Add the egg mixture to the butter-flour mixture and gently stir to obtain the dough. It should not stick to your hands, yet it should not be too hard (think slightly wet sand).
Stove-Bake the Shells:
Your mold consist of two metal plates: one to hold the dough, the other to press into the dough to give it the form of a walnut shell. Separate the 2 plates (some molds come with two plates attached, and you cannot really separate them; read the instructions of your particular mold). Lightly butter one side (the insides that will hold and press the dough) of both of the plates to prevent the dough from sticking. You will repeat this with every 2-3 baking; no need to butter the pan all the time.
Take a pinch of the dough and place in the deep hollowed-out holes of one plate. Do not fill the holes with the dough completely; the dough should cover only about 1/3 of each hole. Put the other plate on top and press onto the dough. Do not open the mold after that.
Transfer the mold to your stove set over medium heat. Press the handles of the mold together for a few seconds before releasing, to prevent the shells from puffing up much and the plates of the mold from opening as a result. After a few seconds you can release your hands. Gently lift the top plate to see if the shells have browned a bit. If so, close again and turn to cook the other side. It is OK to peek inside the mold from time to time to check for doneness, but do not do so for about the first minute or less. Once the outside of the shells is light golden (the inside will remain light), remove the mold from the stove, open the plates and gently release (shake out or whatever method works for you) the shells from the mold, taking care not to break the shells as they will be fragile.
Proceed baking the remaining dough until all of it is used up. Allow the shells to cool completely, then, using your fingertips, trim off the excess baked dough around the edges of the shells, to obtain perfect walnut shells. You can crumble that excess into the dulce de leche filling, if you want (I like only walnuts in my filling, but it is a matter of taste). Otherwise, reserve it for other uses or eat as is.
Stuff the Shells:
Once you have all your shells baked and trimmed, fill each shell almost to the top (but not so that it overflows) with dulce de leche—walnut mixture with the help of a teaspoon, and bring two of the filled shells together and seal, to form a filled walnut. Repeat with all the shells. You may notice that dulce de leche seeps a bit from the edges of some of the cookies and it’s OK. Dulce de leche will harden with time and will stop seeping. Store your oreshki in an airtight container for up to 5 days.