How many holiday tastes can you cram into one cookie?
The recipe I chose for Week 3 of the Cookie Corner goes for five: honey, nuts, gingerbread spices, cherries and chocolate. Wow, right?
But this is no treat turned up to 11: The cookie as baked has layers of flavor, with the chocolate and cherry, surprisingly, dominating it.
The source recipe is from “European Cookies for Every Occasion” (Running Press, $22, 198 pages), written by Krisztina Maksai. She conveniently divides the recipes into four categories: quick and easy, moderately easy, moderately difficult and challenging.
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Her Gingerbread Bites are from the moderately easy chapter; we renamed them “chocolate-dusted spice bites” to better reflect the tastes that come through. (More on that in a bit.)
The book is lavishly illustrated with color how-to photographs, although I found a few of them misleading as I was working my way through the recipe.
For example, why aren’t the cookies in the book’s “beauty shot” of the finished product completely rolled in chocolate? And the chocolate looks like shards, not grated or sprinkles, as the recipe mentions.
It’s no big deal, since the recipe basically works – the test batch was gobbled up in the newsroom. But I have plenty of testing notes attached to this one.
Another thing to note: Maksai’s recipe uses a gingerbread spice mixture that you can make ahead of time and store away. I made half the volume of the spice blend – the original calls for 1/2 cup of ground cinnamon, which seemed like more than I would ever use.
Maksai also says that the only must-haves in the gingerbread spice mix are the cinnamon, cloves and ground anise (which is a good thing if you’ve seen the price of nutmeg this year). I used all six spices, which made the house smell wonderful when the cookies were baking.
Chocolate-dusted spice bites
Prep time: 25 minutes, plus cooling time
Cook time: 13 to 15 minutes per batch
Makes about 21 cookies
Recipe adapted by Kathy Morrison from “European Cookies for All Occasions” by Krisztina Maksai.
Note: The gingerbread spice mix can be made ahead of time and stored in a glass or ceramic jar with a tight-fitting lid. The amounts listed here for the spices in the blend are half what the book lists.
Gingerbread spice mixture:
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground anise seed
2/3 cup honey
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup chopped almonds (I used blanched slivered almonds)
1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mixture (above)
About 24 canned (unsweetened), drained cherries or fresh pitted cherries
1/4 cup (or more) apricot jam
3/4 cup (or more) grated chocolate or chocolate sprinkles
Blend the spices for the spice mixture in a small jar or bowl. Set aside.
For the cookie dough: Melt the honey and butter into a 3-quart nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, baking powder, almonds and 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture; mix them together with a heatproof spatula. Remove the pan from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
While the dough is still warm, form small balls in your palm and then flatten them into a round (about 2 inches across).
For the filling: Put a cherry into each flattened cookie and wrap the dough around it. Continue until all the dough is used. (You’ll have 18 to 24 cookies, depending on how thick your rounds are.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cookies carefully on the pan (an offset spatula helps), about 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Be sure to not let them turn brown. Carefully remove them from the baking sheet with the offset spatula and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely.
For the decoration: When the cookies are cool, warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan on the stove. Put the chocolate or sprinkles in a small shallow bowl. Brush jam onto each cookie. Roll the cookies in the grated chocolate or sprinkles. These cookies are good for about two weeks stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Testing and tasting
• I used about half a 15-ounce can of tart cherries for the filling. Maraschino cherries would make these cookies way too sweet.
• I hand-chopped the nuts but next time would use the food processor to make the bits a little smaller. For the chocolate, I used a 3-ounce Cadbury Dairy Milk bar, grating it with a box grater (medium or large holes preferred).
• I finished each cookie as I went, rather than making all the rounds first. I worked a round into a little cup before adding the cherry.
• The dough was fine to work with at first, but started to dry out after the first batch of cookies went into the oven. I wet my hands often to shape the rest. It was only later that I noticed the cookies in the second batch were larger than those in the first.
• The cookies baked fine on both regular and insulated sheets, just slightly longer on the latter.
• The sprinkles do not stick as well to the cookies as the grated chocolate does. You’ll need a lot of sprinkles if you go that route, so look for a large jar of them. Craft stores and some supermarkets carry the Wilton brand.
• On tasting a cookie, I was surprised to discover that the gingerbread was not as pronounced a flavor as I had assumed, hence the recipe name change. The spice is a nice background flavor, and the cherry tastes better than I had guessed. If you want more spiciness, bump up the spice blend to 1 1/2 tablespoons.
• Most of the tasters preferred the grated-chocolate coating to the sprinkles. Here are some comments: “Very interesting cookie! Multiple textures and flavors.” “Lovely flavor, nice mix of spicy cookie, cherry surprise and chocolate.” “The cookie with the dusting of chocolate was perfection! The subtle chocolate notes blend with the spiciness of the cookie.” “Loved the exterior texture – the sprinkle ones were a little dense for me (although the almonds and cherries were a nice surprise.)” “So many melding flavors at once. Love the cherry.”