I'm placing the pies on the side right now because it's really time to focus on baking cookies and cakes. I love Christmas for the food and desserts but also because it has always been one of my favorite holidays of the year. Every year around this time, my mom would get together with her mother and sisters to prepare loads of holiday sweets. This is something they took very seriously and still do so much so that I know my mother would take time off from her job to bake and prepare tons of holiday desserts.
We also had another tradition, where we'd take sweets to our neighbors and friends. This is something, I was never a big fan of and I always preferred sharing the sweets that were at the lower end of my "dessert-love scale". My mom on the other hand would reevalute the contents of the gift basket and undo all my hardwork, so the good stuff went back in. I am really not sure who benefited from this exercise but it clearly wasn't me!
These days, I make holiday desserts that I really, really love and make enough to gift to friends and family while keep enough to last us for a few weeks. These cookies are fall into this special category of holiday desserts that I must make every year. They bring back nostalgic childhood memories of baking with my mother and her family, memories laced with sugar, flour and above all things, love. Indian "
as these cookies are commonly known, are crispy and eggless. You will love them, the cookies are crisp all-throughout with a deep dark cocoa flavor with a hint of black pepper and cinnamon that will warm you up. The center of each cookie is topped with a generous sprinkling of sea salt crystals that will shock your tastebuds with a delicious amalgam of sensory wonder.
If you like the combination sea salt and chocolate, you will love my
. They are a great addition to your breakfast table at Christmas.
This recipe calls for the use of Indian ghee or clarified butter. Ghee is super easy to make and has a wonderful fragrance and taste. You simply melt unsalted butter in a thick bottomed stock pot until all the fat has melted and the milk solids have separated. The butter is melted and cooked on a low flame to prevent burning of the solids (this is different from browned butter where you want to use the browned milk solids for flavor) but not boiled. The melted fat is then passed through a sieve lined with several layers of muslin/cheese cloth to filter out the separated solids. The resultant fat that is collected is ghee and stored in the refrigerator. It solidifies as it cools. I've been finding ghee in most grocery stores these days but if you need to prepare it at home, start with 3-31/2 sticks of butter to get around 2 cups of ghee using the instructions I just described.
cocoa cinnamon sea salt cookies "nankhatais"
approximately 2 dozen 2 inch cookies
4 cups ( 1lb 3/8 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) dark cocoa, unsweetened
1 teaspoon instant dark roast coffee
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground
1 3/4 cups raw dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cup (12 ounces) ghee/clarified unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 to 3 tablespoons sea salt crystals
1. Whisk all the dry ingredients from the flour to the sugar in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Add the ghee to the dry ingredients and mix on medium-high speed until combined. The mixture should acquire a fine crumb-like texture. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for at least two hours.
There is no need to bring the dough together to form one large ball, just store the dough in the crumb-like phase.
3. Before baking the cookies, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350F and place the baking rack in the middle section of the oven. Take some of the mix in your hands and press and mold together to form small one inch balls. The warmth from your hands will soften the ghee and help to bring the cookies together. Flatten the ball into discs that are about 2 inches in diameter. The cookie discs might crack a little on the edges so press and mold them gently. If they do crack a little, just push the cracked ends closer to seal the gap. (Personally, I don't mind a few minor cracked edges). Sprinkle a pinch of the sea-salt crystals over each cookie.
5. Place the cookie balls on cookie/baking sheet pre lined with parchment paper and bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges start to get crisp and appear a little darker than the color of the cocoa. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and store in air-tight container for up to two weeks.
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup almond meal
1 cup sapota fruit pulp, puree (remove and discard the outer skin and seed)
3 tablespoons fine sugar (for garnish)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground (for garnish)
This preserve uses whole figs that have their stems removed but I keep their skins because I like them. If you are not a big fan of the fruit's skin, then by all means peel them off with a paring knife. Use good quality dry spices for this recipe because they will make the preserve taste better. The cinnamon flavor is gentle yet warming but the dry ginger powder gives the figs a delicious and bold zing. Instead of using brown sugar in this recipe (which you most certainly can try), I find honey to be my preferred choice of sweetener for the fig preserve, somehow that marriage between honey and figs is truly blessed. Yeah, I also like to add a bit of booze to everything I cook, so here it is a cup of Riesling. It brings everything together in my opinion without taking away from any of the flavors of the figs. Serve this on top of some thick plain yogurt for breakfast or spread it over buttered bread. You can also serve this with some sharp cheeses at your parties for an appetizer. Remember with this preserve, a little of it goes a long way!
spiced fig preserves
2 cups of a good quality honey
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
juice of one fresh lemon
Here is the label that I designed for this set of jams, feel free to use them as needed. Click on the image to the right to download the label pdf.
Update: The recipe has been updated to reflect the addition of the lemon juice.
I find December to be the best part of the beginning of winter, after that it all appears depressing until Spring. Needless to say, Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. If Christmas could be legally extended for a lengthy period of time, I would be thrilled. However, I doubt this dream will be fulfilled in this lifetime. Though, this does make me appreciate and long for the holidays a little more eagerly. I realize that this makes me sound a little crazy.
With finals coming up and the school semester ending, I have another reason to look forward to December. The good news is that my thesis is coming together and I have a complete data set with some good preliminary results. A month of no number crunching and regression analysis looks like a nice break right now.
I don't know if a shake is the appropriate recipe for the holidays but I am throwing tradition out of the window with this recipe. In my mind it has all the essential components except for the cold buttermilk and ice cream components but the red raspberries and cinnamon with a shot of the elderberry liquor,St.Germain bring this drink together.
I used less ice cream because I did not want the ice cream to dominate and overpower the taste of this shake but feel free to add some if you wish. Serve this ice-cold of course and if you keep it standing for too long as with all milk based drinks especially those that contain acidic components like buttermilk or yogurt, it can separate, so you might need to shake it a little before you drink it.
cinnamon raspberry buttermilk shake
3 cups low fat buttermilk (1%)
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 cup low fat vanilla ice cream
5 tablespoon St. Germain
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
Extra raspberries and cinnamon sticks for garnishing
Blend all the ingredients together in a mixer till smooth. Pour into chilled glasses. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh whole raspberries and a stick of cinnamon in each glass.