Desserts

Spicy Pfeffernusse

Spicy Pfeffernüsse Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

These classic German holiday cookies, hard and crunchy with a spicy kick, are made ahead of the festivities to allow the flavors to ripen and the cookies to harden. They are ideal dippers for coffee, tea, mulled wine, or cider. This recipe requires fresh and fully flavored spices.

The cookies are quick and easy to make and can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container up to 6 weeks.   

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon fleshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seed
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground allspice
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon stick
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground anise (fennel) seed
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

1. Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, pepper, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise, and baking powder. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat together butter, sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs until well-blended.

4. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in three batches, beating well after each.

5. Flour your hands and gather enough dough to make a 1½-inch-diameter ball. Roll between the palms of your hands to make a smooth, firm ball. Place on a baking sheet, spacing balls 2 inches apart.

6. Dampen your hands with water, rub each ball between palms to smooth surface, and replace on baking sheet.

7. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, until tops are just firm to the touch and lightly golden and bottoms are just beginning to brown. They may begin to crack a bit. Do not overbake. Transfer sheets to racks and let cool slightly.

8. Place powdered sugar in a paper bag and add still-warm cookies a few at a time, shaking gently to coat. Place cookies on a wire rack and let cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Alternatively, uncoated cookies can be cooled completely and frozen in airtight containers up to 2 months. To serve, thaw and coat with powdered sugar.

9. Store at least 2 weeks (and up to 6 weeks) before serving. The longer cookies are stored, the harder they get—up to rock hard, perfect for dipping into hot drinks.

Recipe by Georgeanne Brennan; photo by Terry Brennan; food styling by Lara Miklasevics
 
Brownies

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownies     

Makes 30 brownies

These intensely chocolate, not-too-sweet bites are perfect for a dessert buffet. With a creamy, dark, dark chocolate frosting scattered with just a few grains of sea salt, these brownie bites are a tasty marriage of chocolate and a hint of savory.

There are many artisanal, domestic, and imported chocolates to choose from; just be sure to use an unsweetened one.    

Frosting

  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Brownies

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • ½ teaspoon medium coarse sea salt

1. For the frosting: Blend milk and sugar in a blender at high speed 30 seconds to mix well.

2. Over medium heat, bring water in a double boiler to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and put chocolate in upper pan. The simmering water should not touch the bottom of the pan. Melt chocolate 3 minutes, stirring. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool 3 minutes (not too long or it will firm up again).

3. Add chocolate to blender and blend 1 minute to mix. Scrape down sides of blender. Blend on medium to high speed 4 minutes, until mixture has thickened. It will be very creamy. Refrigerate 1 hour, lightly covered, or up to 1 day.

4. For the brownies: Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F.

5. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and fine salt.

6. Melt the chocolate. (See step 2 above for instructions.)

7. In a large bowl, using an electric beater, beat butter 2 minutes, until creamy. Gradually add sugar and when well-blended, add eggs and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla then chocolate. Blend well. Add flour mixture in 2 to 3 batches, beating well after each.

8. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with butter. Pour batter into dish and smooth with a spatula. Bake 20 minutes, until center is firm to the touch, edges have pulled away slightly from pan, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

9. Remove to a wire rack to cool. When cooled, cut into 1½-inch squares. Frost immediately or within a day.

10. To frost, place 1 teaspoon frosting in center of each brownie and swirl. Just before serving, sprinkle each brownie with 3 to 4 grains sea salt. If sea salt seems too coarse, crush a bit using a mortar and pestle or the back of a wooden spoon.

11. Unfrosted brownies will keep up to 4 days; frosted, unsalted brownies, 2 days. Store in a single layer, lightly covered with aluminum foil (do not let foil touch frosting).

Recipe by Georgeanne Brennan; photo by Terry Brennan; food styling by Lara Miklasevics
 

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