Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Chocolate spice cookies

There's a lot to be said for simple. Margherita pizza. Good-quality vanilla ice-cream. A plain croissant, fresh out of the oven, with a cup of black coffee. Less is more. And then there's Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born, London-based chef du jour whose recipes read like an encyclopedia of ingredients. Crazy combinations in odd quantities that echo cultures but aren't conventional, layering tastes, traditions, techniques... More is more. It shouldn't work at all but it does. Case in point: these chocolate spice cookies. 

On my last visit to Hobart, one of my Tasmanian friends presented me with a jar of homemade cookies (is there any better gift?). She's a brilliant baker, and everything in that jar looked incredible but my eye immediately went to these - dark, mysterious, intriguing... They were plump, polka-dotted, glistening with glaze and garnished with gold. Like no other cookie I'd ever seen. I took my first bite and a million flavours exploded at once - bittersweet chocolate, bright citrus, warm spices... Together, they were spectacular. I immediately went home and researched the recipe because I knew they wouldn't last long. Last week, I made them as gifts for friends who'd cheered me up after a crappy day. There's something about these you feel compelled to share.

Chocolate spice cookies
Adapted from
Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem via The Wednesday Chef

I didn't have any brandy or any desire to purchase a whole bottle for just 2 tablespoons worth, so I plumped the currants in some pink grapefruit juice, just because I had some kicking around in the fridge. Hot water would work too I imagine, but if you have brandy, do try that. Yotam seems to know what he's talking about.

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) currants
2 tablespoons brandy (or citrus juice or hot water)
Scant 2 cups (240 grams) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (150 grams) good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
1/2 cup (125 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (125 grams) caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 large free-range egg
1 tablespoon diced candied citrus peel

3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup (160 grams) icing (confectioners’) sugar

Soak the currants in the brandy/citrus juice/hot water for 10 minutes. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate. 

Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest to combine but don't aerate much, about 1 minute. With the mixer or beater running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and their soaking liquid. Mix until everything comes together.

Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it is uniform. Divide the dough into 1¾-ounce (50 gram) chunks and roll each chunk into a perfectly round ball. Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with baking paper, spacing them about ¾ inch (2 cm) apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still soft. Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for only 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack. 

While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing forms. Pour a tablespoon of the glaze over each cookie, leaving it to drip and coat the cookie with a very thin, almost transparent film. Top each cookie with 3 pieces of candied peel placed at the center. Leave to set and then serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.

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