Monday, September 24, 2012

Walnut Black Pepper Cookies

I am enamored with these teeny-tiny cookies.  They're crispy and buttery, delicate and nutty. They're sweet and peppery, and very, very addictive.  I polished off the first dozen in lightening speed and attempted to reserve the remaining dozen in the freezer, assuming I'd save them for a later day.  But it turns out; their addictive qualities are somehow augmented in the cold.  They're perfectly spiced and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, almost like gingerbread, but with more pizzazz.  The black pepper works beautifully.  Don't be timid.  I suppose this cookie falls under the 'tea cookie' umbrella.  But make no mistake about it; flecked with freshly ground black peppercorns, these offbeat cookies are far from ordinary.  

I came across this cookie recipe while thumbing through Jessica Theroux's, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily.  It's what I refer to as one of the passport cookbooks from my collection, the kind that instantly transports me to a new location.  In this case, a simpler way of life in the Italian countryside was my destination.  These particular cookies were inspired by an excursion American chef Jessica Theroux took in Calabria.  She spent time foraging for black peppercorns during her stay with a woman named Carluccia, one of the Italian grandmothers highlighted in the book.

I wouldn't mind spending some time with Carluccia too.  I'd be happy to sip on her walnut liquor, nocino, which takes two years to ferment.  I'd jump at the chance to forage for peppercorns and walnuts on her land, and giddily roll fresh pasta until I my fingertips went numb.  There are some hurdles to this dream of course.  I don't know Carluccia's address, and I only know about three words in Italian.  Perhaps more importantly, I haven't exactly been invited.  And though my bagged organic Trader Joe's walnuts are likely a far cry from the walnuts gathered among the Italian countryside, I can't say I know the difference.  They did the job for me.  This cookie is as good as it gets in my book.  That's got to count for something.

Check out the book if you're not already familiar with it.  I have a feeling this won't be the last recipe I'll highlight from it.  If you try these sweet and spicy cookies, let me know what you think.  I have a feeling I've found my Christmas cookie for 2012.  Considering I failed so miserably at finding it last yearI'm well ahead of schedule this year.  Ciao.

~Walnut Black Pepper Cookies Recipe~
Adapted ever so slightly from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers

1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
3 tbsp dark honey
1 cup raw walnuts, processed in food processor until coarsely ground
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy with an electric mixer.  Add black pepper, salt, and honey; mixing again to incorporate.  Add the walnuts and flour and mix until the dough forms moist clumps, a few minutes.  

Roll large teaspoonfuls of the batter between your hands, making little balls.  Place the balls on your baking sheet and press down on them twice with a fork, making a crosshatch pattern.  Bake cookies for 25 minutes or until their bottoms have turned golden-nutty brown.  Set aside to cool.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.


Eileen said...

Black pepper and walnut cookies? What an interesting combination! Must try. :)

Margie Larrazabal said...

i love how simple this recipe is. the black peppers in these cookies sure are making me curious to try them! thanks for a great cookbook recommendation... this book sounds so heartwarming... like coming home to my non-existent italian nana. hmmm...

Amy said...

Oh gosh I'd love to make these. I'm always really vulnerable to those passport-like cookbooks. Just by reading this post I'm wishing Carluccia were my Italian grandmother. I hope to make these cookies soon... although I am hesitant to the whole black pepper thing. I'm a wimp! But I need to be braver in the kitchen.

Stephanie said...

Thanks Eileen! Margie, it is! It's a great book. I don't have an Italian nana either, haha! ;) She's Irish. Amy, don't be scared. I've been following you for a while now and you're not a wimp!

Sue/the view from great island said...

How did I miss these? I love this kind of authentic old world recipe that really explodes our idea of what a cookie should be---great find!

Stephanie said...

Thanks Sue-I think you'd love these. I'm on my third batch! Seriously....

Thyme (Sarah) said...

I have never tried a cookie like this but just by looking at them I have no doubt they tasted delicious. They came out so perfectly! Usually I have one or two "tea" cookies in the afternoon...I love rather plain slightly sweetened British cookies...simple, nothing fancy!