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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Dash of Pepper: Cookies with an Edge

Or, the Pittsburgh Cookie Table--Christmas Style, part 5

These pictures give a taste of the Minnesota Dance Theater's Nutcracker Fantasy, celebrating its 46th birthday this weekend. I judge this version, choreographed by Loyce Houlton, to be the most dramatic and witty Nutcracker ever.
(Hint: the Mouse King loses the battle, but wins the war.)
The original E. T. A. Hoffmann Nutcracker is perhaps not quite a children's tale. It's a little less sweet, a little more complicated, and has some unexpected twists.
So do today's cookie recipes. These cookies can be lifted from the dessert buffet to form a sub-set Grown-up Cookie Table next to the cheese board at Happy Hour. The unexpected ingredients include thyme, bourbon, and black pepper.

I got this recipe from a friend, so the origin is unknown—but the dry, cakey bite and the prep method make me suspect that the recipe might originate in Italy. If you use commercially-ground black pepper, most people won't be able to guess the mystery ingredient. If you grind fresh peppercorns, the flavor will be more assertive.
I prefer the un-glazed version for those I serve with wine and cheese.

  • 1 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 heaping tablespoons of cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon or more of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon or more of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon or more of ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon or more of [finely] ground black pepper
Mix all dry ingredients together. Make a well in the middle. Add cooled butter and milk. Work together until smooth. Roll into ¾" balls. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, or until firm.
If desired, frost with a simple glaze of confectioner's sugar and milk. Makes 3-4 dozen.


I found this recipe in the 2007 Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine.
Besides being beautiful and presenting unique flavors, this cookie has an earthy texture that comes from adding cornmeal.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried sage, crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup [seedless] blackberry preserves
  • Small fresh sage leaves (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, cornmeal, dried sage, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg yolks, lemon peel, and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture.
Shape dough into ¾-inch balls. Place balls 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Lightly press the tip of your thumb into the center of each ball. Fill each center with about ¼ teaspoon blackberry preserves.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely. If desired, garnish with small fresh sage leaves. Makes 60.

Simple, elegant, and not too sugary—kinda like Martha Stewart herself. She's published this recipe on the Web and in print.
You can't tell from the photo, but I always cut mine with miniature cutters—that way they make the perfect cracker-sized nibble for cocktail parties.

  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
Heat oven to 350. Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg, flour, bourbon, and currants; mix well.
Roll dough ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes. [Make glaze, using the lightly-beaten egg and the heavy cream.] Brush cookies with egg-glaze mixture.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool.

LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED. Mom always insisted we make our Christmas cookies small enough to eat in one or two bites. As a greedy young person, I hated that. But she was right. Smaller cookies mean that everybody can sample lots of different kinds. I also end up with fewer half-eaten discards abandoned (and often hidden—especially under furniture in carpeted rooms) by persons whose eyes were bigger than their tummies.

1 comment:

  1. So many recipes, Susan. And they all sound great. I do believe you are correct when you say the chocolate cookie recipe is of Italian origin. My aunt made a cookie with all of the same spices, excluding pepper. Adding raisins and nuts were optional. She called them... Italian Christmas Chocolate Cookies