- In a large bowl, beat oleo with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup sugar and the salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour and the ground nuts. Divide dough in half. If necessary, wrap portions and chill for 30 to 60 minutes or until dough is firm enough to handle. Wash and dry beaters.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough at a time to 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2-1/2-inch donut cutter,** cut out dough. Place dough rings 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Use dough circles from center of rings to make Duce Cookies (see recipe, below), if desired, or reroll to make more rings.
- In a medium bowl, beat egg whites with clean beaters with an electric mixer and beat on high speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add the 1/2 cup sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). If desired, tint egg white mixture with desired color of paste food coloring. Spoon egg white mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a small open star tip. Pipe the egg white mixture decoratively atop each dough ring, or spread egg white mixture atop dough rings using a thin metal spatula. If desired, sprinkle egg white mixture on dough rings with red and green sugar.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 16 to 18 minutes or until tops are very lightly browned and cookies are set under the meringue layer. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Makes about 40 Nut Rings and 20 Duce Cookies.
From the Test Kitchen
Place the center cutouts 1 inch apart on a separate ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the 300 degree F oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until tops are very lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Spread about 1/4 teaspoon desired flavor jam or marmalade on the flat side of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down. Sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar before serving.
*To toast hazelnuts (filberts):
Spread hazelnuts (filberts) in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown, watching carefully and stirring once or twice so the nuts dont burn. Cool slightly. Place the nuts on a clean kitchen towel, fold towel over top, and rub vigorously to remove the skins.
If you don't have a donut cutter, make cutouts using a 2-1/2-inch round cutter. Then use a 1-inch round cutter to make cutouts in the centers of the 2-1/2-inch dough circles.
Layer Nut Rings or Duce Cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store Nut Rings at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Store Duce Cookies in the refrigerator for up to 1 day or freeze for up to 3 months.