There are many things I do not enjoy: pretzels, awkward small talk, hugging strangers (I don’t know you), hugging people I love (unnecessary–a firm handshake should suffice), and desserts most of the time.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “this person is a garbage monster,” yes, I know. I’m working on it! Thus, my new year’s resolution to be less of a hater this year, starting now. One of my favorite food writers, the notorious curmudgeon Jeffrey Steingarten, has written at length about being a hater—and the subsequent conquering of his various food prejudices, from Indian sweets to kimchi and Greek food. So that is my goal for the upcoming year, to try to embrace things that previously I’d loathed. Perhaps all I need is a change in perspective, the perfect pretzel or fascinating conversation with a stranger to change my position on such things.
With my quite vocal dislike of sweets, the last thing I thought I’d be doing this holiday season was making cookies. Quite paradoxically, I love baking. The Great British Bake Off is my jam (who could forget the notorious #bingate?). There’s nothing I like better on a Sunday than spending hours in the kitchen crafting a beautiful dessert…taking a bite, and then giving it all away to the neighbors. I often get bored halfway through eating a slice of pie or cake, no matter how good it may be. A basket of french fries or a dozen dumplings is much more my speed.
But I had a cookie exchange to
win attend. What would I, noted cookie hater, bring? There were a few promising options on our blog: Lucy’s chocolate chip ginger cookies, the super decadent No-Snow Day sweets, and her killer Christmas offering from two years ago, all of which come highly recommended. In my research, I also stumbled upon Yotam Ottolenghi’s Spice Cookie recipe on Luisa Weiss’s site. It sounded just a little crazy and not too difficult to pull off, so I decided to give these cookies a try. I whipped up a couple dozen and the process went pretty smoothly, despite a minor issue with getting the candied orange peel to stick. I abandoned the garnish and the cookies didn’t seem to suffer too much without.
At the holiday party, I delivered my baked goods to my charming hosts. Instead of parking myself in front of the snack table as I usually do at social gatherings, I chatted with strangers. At one point, I found myself stuck in an excruciating conversation with a guy whom I shall call Hansel. Another guest asked Hansel if he made that fancy looking chocolate covered marshmallow thing that he’d arrived with. To his credit, Hansel admitted that they were store bought. And then he said they were called, mohrenkopf, which translates to “Moor’s Heads.” When I started laughing in surprise, he sputtered some excuse, that “they’re called a lot worse things in Europe!” Dude, not only did you bring store bought cookies to the cookie exchange, you brought racist store-bought cookies. I gracefully bowed out of the conversation by saying, “Excuse me, I have to…” pointing at the pimento cheese and then spending the rest of night with my back to him, shoving spicy cheese dip in my mouth.
My attempt at small talk was a bit of a failure, but I’ve still got a few weeks until January 1st. The cookies were a big hit at the party at least. There are a lot of ingredients in the Ottolenghi recipe, but as far as I know, racism is not one of them. There is the comforting warmth of cinnamon, nutmeg, and all-spice, dark chocolate and cocoa, a bit of kick from the ginger, and citrus to lift and contrast with all those flavors. It’s a really great cookie, and I should know, I hate cookies.
OTTOLENGHI SPICE COOKIES
Makes about 16 cookies
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (125 g) currants*
2 Tbsp brandy
Scant 2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp best-quality cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
5 oz (150 g) good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (125 g) superfine sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 large free-range egg
1 Tbsp diced candied citrus peel
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/3 cups (160 g) confectioners’ sugar
*I omitted the currants because I’m not a fan of most dried fruit. Feel free to include these if you prefer.
Put the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat to combine but not aerate much, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together.
Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it comes together and is uniform. Divide the dough into 1 3/4-oz / 50g chunks and shape each chunk into a perfectly round ball.
Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about 3/4 inch / 2 cm apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still slightly soft. Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for only 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack. While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing forms. Pour 1 tablespoon of the glaze over each biscuit, leaving it to drip and coat the biscuit with a very thin, almost transparent film. Finish each with 3 pieces of candied peel placed at the center. Leave to set and serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.