It’s always a pleasure to discover a new favourite. I have a repertoire of bakes I make every year around this time – Sticky Gingerbread, Gingerbread Biscuits, Gingerbread Men, Date & Ginger Cake, Christmas Cake and Peanut Butter Cups. This year I wanted a Middle Eastern vibe though, a new introduction into the old set and oh lordy, have I found it. These Spice Cookies from Jerusalem (Yotam Ottelenghi & Sami Tamimi) are in essence, christmas cake in a delectable cookie form. Take it from someone who sits on the fence about cookies; am nae that fussed to be honest. However, I’ve already greedily snaffled two of these fat babies. I am hooked.
The ingredients list is long, which puts me off as it’s impossible not to associate it with being laborious, something that brings out the hives in me at this time of year. However, I am a huge believer in the genius of these two culinary giants. The dough came together quickly, the rolling was phata-phat as they say in India and before I knew it, the house was filled with the scent of Christmas. Each of the ingredients added their own unique flavour to make an entirely satisfying whole. There’s the tart, deep raisiny flavour from the brandy soaked currants, the subtle bitter depth of cocoa and chocolate, the perfume and punch of citrus zest (and candied peel but I can’t stand the vile things, so left it out) and the heady hit of cosy cinnamon, warm ginger, heady all spice and aromatic nutmeg. The cookie is then topped with a transparent film like glaze of lemon icing.
You’d think with these many players, there’d be a christmas brawl, but as ever these two fellas understand how to combine and bring out the best of supposedly opposing ingredients so that they dance together as a whole. Now for the bossy bit. Follow the instructions as given. Ottelenghi’s meticulousness comes in handy here. The author actually tells you to roll the dough into 50gm balls. Keep the size as suggested. They are alarmingly HUGE but that’s best here and feels just right in the eating. The lemon glaze is meant to be light, almost like a translucent film over the cookie. Any thicker and it would overpower and I suspect have a claggy sort of mouthfeel. Not what you want. Watch the timings and the way the cookies are baking as these cookies are prone to drying out easily.
These Spice Cookies are just the thing to tame the bitterness of an espresso or spice up the calm of a tea. That moment you take the lid off the tin brings a rush of scents that cannot but make you feel happy. I love the rustic look of these bulging beauties. They won’t win any awards in the “Ooh Pretty!” category but that first, unsuspecting bite will convert any reservations into solid praise. They are the antithesis to a lot of the seasonal baking that calls for looks, sometimes at the expense of taste. I love them unreservedly. In short, bake these, you won’t be disappointed.
Spice Cookies from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottelenghi
2 tbsp brandy
240g plain flour
½ tbsp best-quality cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
150g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp grated lemon zest
½ tsp grated orange zest
½ medium free-range egg
1 tbsp diced candied citrus peel (optional)
For the glaze
3 tbsp lemon juice
160g icing sugar
Soak the currants in the brandy for 10 minutes. Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices, salt and grated chocolate, and whisk well to combine.
Put the butter, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest and orange zest in the bowl of a mixer and beat to combine, You don’t want a lot of air in here, so beat for just a minute. Slowly add the egg while the beaters are running and beat for another minute. Add the dry ingredients, then the soaked currants and let it mix until everything is uniformly distributed and comes together. Gently knead to bring the rubble into a smooth dough after taking the bowl from the mixer.
Divide the dough into 50gm rolled balls, place on a paper lined baking sheet, leaving 2-3 cm spaces and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan-assisted)/gas mark 5).
Bake the cookies for 15–20 minutes. The tops will be formed and firm, but still a little soft underneath. Take the trays out of the oven, leave the cookies for 5 minutes only to firm up and then transfer to a wire rack.
While the cookies are still warm, whisk the glaze ingredients to get a smooth, thin icing. Pour a tablespoon of this icing over the biscuits, letting it drip down the sides. The icing should be thin, almost a transparent film over the top.
Finish the cookies by placing three pieces of candied peel at the centre of each. Leave to cool completely and for the icing to set. Serve or store in an airtight container for a couple of days.