December 22, 2010

time for cooookies

The December cookie-baking bug bites me every year. Never fails.

This year it happened one evening as I strolled past the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

No matter how many times I see that tree, I always have to pause for a moment and take it all in. It never fails to dazzle the little kid in me.

With all the busy-ness of December, it took me a couple of weeks to get from cookie-baking daydreams to actual cookie-baking, giving me plenty of time for recipe research. This year I wanted to do a few variations on a butter/sugar cookie, with different flavor elements to make each unique - a warming chai spice blend (cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove), a delicate and floral green tea version, and a nutty buckwheat-almond combination.  I also wanted to incorporate whole grain flours (the aforementioned buckwheat and spelt are favorites) and an unrefined sweetener (palm sugar, which has a flavor similar to light brown sugar and a lower glycemic index than refined white sugar).

After some bouncing around on the web I found a few simple recipes that I thought could be tweaked to include more whole grain flour and palm sugar without adversely affecting their chemistry. So, armed with a pound of sweet butter and a few other key ingredients, I whipped up 3 batches of super-simple and delicious cookies that have a bit more substance than the usual white flour/white sugar concoctions: chai-spiced spelt cookiesgreen tea shortbread, and buckwheat-almond sugar cookies.

Chai-Spiced Spelt Cookies, Adapted from Whole Foods
Buttery, rich with warming spices, and quite delectable alongside a cup of French roast.
Makes about 30 cookies.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fine-grained salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar, for rolling the cookies (optional, but it does make them look pretty!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream butter with palm sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy using a hand mixer (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add flour, spices, and salt, and beat or stir until combined.
  3. Scoop and roll dough into small balls (about 1 tsp each) and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
  4. Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then roll warm cookies in powdered sugar and cool completely on a wire rack.
Green Tea Shortbread, Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Finely ground green tea adds a subtle floral note to these tender shortbreads. I thought using all spelt flour here might hide the delicate flavor of the green tea, so I used a 50/50 combination of all-purpose flour and whole spelt flour instead.
Makes about 36 cookies.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
2 Tbsp finely ground Japanese green tea (ground in a spice grinder), or matcha green tea powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup palm sugar
  1. Whisk together flours, green tea, and salt in a small bowl.
  2. In a larger bowl, cream butter until fluffy (3 to 5 minutes) with a hand mixer, then add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes more.
  3. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat on low until just incorporated.
  4. Form dough into a log on a sheet of waxed paper, roll up, and chill until firm (about an hour).
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap dough, slice into 1/4-inch-thick cookies, and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden around the edges, rotating pan halfway through.  Cool on a wire rack.
Buckwheat-Almond Sugar Cookies, Adapted from LA Times
Brown-buttery and nutty, with crunchy bits of toasted almonds, these cookies are addictive (they might be my favorite this year!). These would also make a fine sandwich cookie with a layer of melted dark chocolate (or Nutella!) in the middle.
Makes about 24 cookies.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup palm sugar
1/4 tsp fine-grained salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup whole grain buckwheat flour
1/2 cup whole grain spelt flour
  1. In a medium bowl, cream butter with the palm sugar, salt, and cinnamon using a hand mixer, until fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and almonds and mix on low until combined.
  2. Stir together the flours in a separate bowl, add to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined.
  3. Form the dough into a log on a piece of waxed paper, roll up, and chill until firm (at least 1 hour).
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Slice the chilled dough into 1/4-inch-thick cookies and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden around the edges, rotating sheet halfway through. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.
The cookies will keep for about 2 weeks at room temp in a tightly sealed container. The dough can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to a month - just defrost and slice off some dough to satisfy a cookie craving!


  1. That festive tree looks so COOL, man! Your spelt cookies in all different flavours sound so good & tempting too!


  2. Thanks for these great recipes! Great timing for cookie exchange season...some nice options that are different from the norm and much better for you.

  3. Hi Nancy--hope that you are still enjoying the holidays! I really like these flavor profiles that you've concocted for your cookies, especially the warm chai spice. best wishes in the coming new year-

  4. Thanks, Sophie!

    Hi Rachael, welcome and thanks! Hope your cookie baking season was filled with lots of deliciousness.

    Hi Nancy - aren't warming chai spices great in cookies? Yum. Happy holidays to you, too. All the best!