vegan hazelnut cookies (brutti ma buoni) & learning to see

Learn how to see.   —Leonardo Da Vinci

vegan hazelnut cookies | conifères & feuillus

Growing up in the Mile End neighbourhood of Montréal in the 70s and 80s, we had a lot of neighbours of Italian heritage. I secretly envied them. Not counting the Jewish population, who kept to themselves, the Italian Canadians were visibly more affluent than the rest of us. They were homeowners, occupying the duplexes and triplexes characteristic of Mile End with their multi-generational families. Their homes were adorned with vegetable gardens in the front and/or back. They had their own churches and their own shops. They even had their own cooking show on television from which my Indian parents learnt to cook pasta dishes by watching Chef Pasquale, despite not understanding a word of Italian, except of course mangiare

Not far from Mile End, Montréal’s very own Little Italy had already been established. Though we would pass through it occasionally, we never had the need to go there. We did, however, frequent the neighbourhood Italian grocery store, Latina, a short distance from our home, for an emergency purchase of tomatoes or milk. It was always an exotic affair. The smell of cheese would make me want to hold my nose and the sight of beef tongue would make me cringe that I would be grateful we would cut right through the meat section. But my parents would always linger by the barrels of olives sitting in brine; they look like gunda they would say but it would take years before they would venture into buying some.  Italian opera always filled the air only to be muted by overly excited, jovial greetings between friends— in Italian, of course. I always felt a sense of community here, a community though, that we were not a part of. Though my parents never seemed very concerned, I always had a feeling that we had overstepped some invisible line, that we were not welcomed there. Mile End was a mosaic of so many immigrant groups, but we were newcomers, visibly new, visibly different and as I stared at everything unfamiliar and fascinating in that neighbourhood grocery store, I always had this feeling that a thousand pairs of eyes were staring right back at me.

It wasn’t only the gap in wealth or race that divided us. Other measures to divide us children were already in place when we arrived, thwarting any chance at friendship. Back then, the public school system was divided not only by language (French and English) but by religion as well, namely Catholic and Protestant. The Italian and Portuguese children would attend the neighbourhood Catholic school, while the rest of us—mostly Asians, South Asians, and Greeks would attend the neighbourhood Protestant school. Each morning, on our way to school, the two groups of children crossed paths and exchanged pleasantries across that thin line we imagined between “us” and “them”.

It wasn’t until I was out of the public school system and attending CEGEP and university and in the workforce that I had a chance to really get to know Montréal-Italians. They told me stories of their parents or grandparents coming to Canada as economic migrants escaping poverty of the Italian countryside, of the discrimination the community faced in its early days and especially during WW2. We compared stories of growing up ethnic in Canadian society and found that we had much in common. I realized that the envy and prejudices I once had were so unfounded. And that’s the problem inherent to humankind, that we allow the differences that we perceive to divide us even before we can get to know each other.

vegan hazelnut cookies | conifères & feuillus
vegan hazelnut cookies | conifères & feuillus
vegan hazelnut cookies | conifères & feuillus

These cookies are essentially a vegan version of the Italian brutti ma buoni (translates to ‘ugly but good’) cookies. Instead of coarsely chopping the hazelnuts though, I blitz them in a food processor to obtain a fine consistency. They may not appear to be the prettiest of cookies, but if you can learn how to see, you will see that they are pretty good!

Vegan Hazelnut Cookies

(yields 18 cookies)

  • 150 g whole hazelnuts (mine were blanched)
  • 60 g raw sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 30 g aquafaba


  1. Preheat oven to 325 °F.
  2. Bake hazelnuts on an oven tray, in a single layer for 7-10 minutes. Stir and check a few times to ensure they bake evenly and that they do not burn. 
  3. Allow to cool. (If your hazelnuts were not already blanched, rub of skins at this point.)
  4. When ready to proceed with making the cookies, preheat oven to 350 °F.
  5. Process hazelnuts and sugar in a mini food processor until fine.
  6. In a bowl, mix with baking powder.
  7. Mix in aquafaba.
  8. Roll mixture into small balls and place on cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.
  9. Slightly press down with two fingers.
  10. Bake for about 12 minutes.

19 thoughts on “vegan hazelnut cookies (brutti ma buoni) & learning to see

  1. I can’t believe how simple these are Annika. Although the post gave me a little chill – because two years ago this week I was inspired to make vegan cookies for Christmas and got my finger caught in the hand blender….it was all rather messy. Learnt my lesson though and so I’m tempted to give these a go!

  2. the cookies look and sound amazing (yay hazelnuts!), and i am intrigued by their short ingredient list. i haven’t yet gotten on the aquafaba train, but these sure seem like reason enough to board! it’s true about our perception of differences, isn’t it? i was reading something similar along the lines of friendships—how we can change or even destroy them by the narratives we tell ourselves; the stories so convincing they become unspoken truth. seeing, listening, being open and receptive—what riches we could enjoy if we only were able to do those things. peace and love among them.

    1. Thank you Kristen, these are way too easy to not try. Next time you cook some chickpeas, just keep 30 g of cooking water aside. I think we are all prone to passing judgement too quickly sometimes, it’s a human quality that we must always try to keep in check. xx

  3. As soon as I saw that name popping up in our email box I had to come! Brutti ma Buoni are not only Italian, but they are the cookies of my city, Rome! I love them, make them, and I’ve eaten my fair share. But never in a vegan version with aquafaba (which I have yet to try). They look beautiful and I bet they taste delicious. Your words, as always, were able to transport me right there with you!

    1. Thank you so much for such lovely comment. I did’t know these cookies originated in Rome. My friend who taught me to make the authentic version might have lead me to think they were from Sicily! I love the authentic version as well and have eaten my fair share but I never enjoy being stuck with egg yolks. Hope you try these when you have some extra cooking water left behind from chickpeas. xx

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