Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 29, 2012

Recipes showcase season's spices

Pepper, allspice, cinnamon and fennel star in cookies

By ALISON LADMAN
Associated Press

---- — There's no better time than the holidays to experiment with spices.

Take a basic oat drop-style cookie and add the comforting, holiday flavors of cinnamon and honey. These cookies beg to go with tea, hot cocoa or even milk left for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Want more bang for your buck? Try adding dried fruit and nuts, too. Golden raisins and peanuts would be a great combination.

We took the classic hermit bar and reimagined it as a holiday drop cookie. We also replaced the traditional raisins with more festive dried cherries, then spiked them with allspice.

Sometimes you want a cookie sweet enough to take the enamel off your teeth. Sometimes you don't. For those more grownup times, we created fennel cornmeal wafers, which are delicate in both texture and sweetness. They would go great with a glass of dessert wine, or as an accompaniment to a cheese course.

Finally, while we tend to think of black pepper as a savory seasoning, it also has a sweet side. No, pepper itself doesn't taste sweet, but its trademark bite does pair well with sweet ingredients. We used black pepper in a richly sweet and buttery sable (pronounced SAH-bley), the French cousin of more traditional shortbread cookies. And while we usually bemoan the trend in recipe writing to call ONLY for freshly ground black pepper, this is a case where you'll want to grind it just before using it. It is, after all, the star ingredient.

Cinnamon-Honey Oat Drop Cookies

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 c. packed brown sugar

½ c. honey

1 t. vanilla extract

4 eggs

2¼ c. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking soda

½ t. salt

1½ t. cinnamon, divided

2½ c. old-fashioned oats

¼ c. granulated sugar

Heat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl in between additions.

Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Stir in the oats.

Scoop by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Using a slightly moistened hand, flatten the cookies until ½ inch thick.

In a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle lightly over the top of each cookie.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer glossy and just starting to turn golden brown at the edges. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Makes 36 cookies.

Cherry Allspice Hermits

½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1½ c. packed brown sugar

1 t. salt

2 eggs

½ c. buttermilk

1 c. molasses

4 c. all-purpose flour

½ t. baking soda

1 t. baking powder

1 t. allspice

2 c. dried cherries

Heat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, brown sugar and salt until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the buttermilk and molasses, followed by the flour, baking soda, baking powder and allspice. Beat together just until well combined. Stir in the cherries.

Scoop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between the cookies. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until beginning to brown around the edges and no longer glossy.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the pan before moving to a rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Makes 36 cookies.

Fennel Cornmeal Wafers

½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 c. packed brown sugar

¼ t. salt

¼ t. baking soda

1 t. vanilla extract

1 egg

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 T. fennel seeds

½ c. cornmeal

Heat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, brown sugar, salt, baking soda and vanilla until creamy. Beat in the egg. Add the flour, fennel seeds and cornmeal and mix until combined.

Scoop by the teaspoonful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Makes 48 cookies.

Chocolate Pepper Sable

1¼ c. all-purpose flour

½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 t. freshly ground black pepper

½ t. baking soda

12 T. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ c. packed brown sugar

¼ c. granulated sugar

1 t. vanilla extract

¼ t. fine sea salt

1 c. finely chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, pepper and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the dry mixture to the butter-sugar blend, then mix just until a dough forms. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Roll the mixture into 36 small balls and arrange on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between them. Use a flat-bottomed glass to gently press and flatten the cookies on the baking sheet.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until no longer wet looking. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Makes 36 cookies.