Another week, another of Ottolenghi’s Sweet recipes. This time, in looking for something fittingly sophisticated for a book club meeting, I settled on a cookie that looked rich in spices and like it would pair equally well with tea or red wine, depending on what road the night took. Plus, the contrasting colors make for an impressive display, which never hurts when you’re laying out a spread of food for guests.
I also learned a number of cool techniques this week! Which I’ll talk about more below. First, though, is how to address the fact that Ottolenghi’s idea of what is commonly in a supermarket is actually quite different from what I can find in my local Whole Foods. Maybe it’s a British thing.
You’re supposed to start by combining the spices into a spice mix, including cinnamon, aniseed, white pepper, ginger, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves. All of that is well and good except for aniseed, which I couldn’t find anywhere. Well, couldn’t find in the spice aisle of the one grocery store I checked. But still. Initially I thought I’d just leave it out, but 1 full teaspoon is a lot of a spice to leave out of a mix that should only be 8 teaspoons total. So I started Googling substitutes, and found that if I could grind up star anise really finely, it would be close enough.
Luckily, I had some leftover star anise pods from a mulled cider I had made over the winter. Unfortunately, I don’t have a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. It’s officially on my list of things to get for my next kitchen. But I do have a mini chop, which did an OK job if I filtered out the big pieces. I decided it was better than having no aniseed at all. Next, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, dark brown sugar, and milk on medium speed until smooth. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and 4 teaspoons of the spice mix. Save the rest for another batch of cookies or some Speculaas Biscuits (sure to appear on a later blog post).
Add the dry ingredients to the stand mixer and beat until dough is soft and easy to handle. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in fridge at least an hour. You can leave it overnight if you’re doing this in stages. Next, make the almond paste. If you’re unable to find blanched almonds at the grocery store (thanks, Whole Foods), it’s not actually too terrible to blanch some raw almonds yourself. All you do is put the almonds in a bowl, pour boiling water over them, let them sit for a minute, and then drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pour them onto a paper towel and pat dry, then rub with your fingers to release the skins. Easy process, though doing it for about 2 cups of almonds took around 40 minutes. I would definitely just buy blanched if you have the option.
Put the blanched almonds in a food processor and process for about 30 seconds, until ground but not too fine. Add the egg, sugar, and lemon juice and process to combine. Pulse in the lemon zest and candied citrus peel. I couldn’t find any candied citrus peel (yet another Whole Foods failure – they really let me down this week) despite being 100% certain that last week when I was at the grocery store they had some in the cheese section. The cookies did fine without it. Roll the dough out onto a floured piece of parchment paper into a rectangle roughly 13 x 7 inches. Brush the dough with about 2/3 of the melted butter. Spoon the almond paste down the middle third and shape into a log. Brush paste with remaining melted butter.Using the parchment paper to help, carefully fold the sides over the almond paste to create a sealed log, pressing seam to join. Turn log over and brush with beaten egg. Arrange reserved blanched almonds on top. Transfer parchment paper to baking sheet. Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on pan. When cool, cut into 12 equal slices.Serve with tea (or coffee or wine). Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground aniseed
- 3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 7 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/3 cups + 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups blanched almonds
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- zest of one small lemon
- 2 ounces candied citrus peel, chopped
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 24 blanched almonds
- First, mix together the spices to form a spice mix. Set aside.
- To make the dough, place the butter, brown sugar, and milk in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until smooth.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda, flour, salt, and 4 teaspoons of the spice mix.
- Add the dry ingredients to the stand mixer and beat until dough is soft and easy to handle.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly to bring together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.
- To make the almond paste, place 1 1/2 cups of blanched almonds into a food processor. Process for 30 seconds until ground, but not too fine.
- Add egg, sugar, and lemon juice and process until paste comes together and holds its shape.
- Pulse in lemon zest and candied citrus peel.
- Roll refrigerated dough out on a floured sheet of parchment paper into a 7×13 inch rectangle. Brush dough with about 2/3 of melted butter.
- Spoon almond paste down center of dough and shape into flat log. Brush with remaining melted butter.
- Fold sides up to cover log and press to seal seam. Turn over and brush with beaten egg. Arrange remaining blanched almonds on top to decorate.
- Transfer parchment paper to baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
- When cool, cut log into 12 equal slices.