Baking Christmas cookies is not a French tradition, unless of course one is from Alsace, where traditions are much more German than they are French, thus cookie-oriented. But baking Christmas cookies is clearly part of our tradition, and I just finished my first batch.
Now, the kitchen is redolent of cinnamon, cloves, chocolate and toasted almonds and hazelnuts, from the Chocolate Almond Cookies that are piled everywhere. The batch is huge and it needs to be; these are universal favorites. I make them early because their flavor improves with age; by next week, when they’re really needed (my son comes home from college and these are his favorites) they’ll be perfect, and they’ll just keep getting better
These are a Sicilian cookie, aptly described as “brutti ma buoni,” ugly but good, with little chunks of chocolate in them that tend to stay just slightly soft, even as the cookies harden. They’re more than good, they’re simply delicious, ideal for dipping in espresso, nutritious enough that if you discover they’re being eaten for breakfast, it’s a fine thing!
Here is the recipe – I hope you’ll make them! If you’ve got a favorite Christmas cookie recipe, I’d love to see it. It’s that baking time of year!
4 cups (580g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (65g) unsweetened cacao
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Large pinch of fine sea salt
16 ounces (1 lb;500g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Lindt brand
2 large eggs
2 cups (400g) vanilla sugar
The minced zest of 1 orange, preferably organic
3/4 cup (185ml) espresso or very strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces (250g) almonds, lightly toasted
8 ounces (250g) hazelnuts, lightly toasted
- Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powders, cloves, cinnamon, and salt together onto a piece of waxed paper.
- Chop the chocolate into chips the size of a pea. The pieces will be uneven – don’t worry.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and the sugar and whip until the mixture is pale yellow and light. Mix in the orange zest, 1/2 cup (125ml) of the coffee, and the vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly but JUST until combines. If the mixture is very dry, add the remaining coffee – the dough should be somewhat sticky; it will also be very firm. Add the almonds and the chocolate and mix until combined.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Cover three of them with a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Lightly flour your hands and roll the fourth piece on a floured work surface to form a log that measures 14 x 1-1/2-inches (35 x3.75cm). Roll over the log with a rolling pin to slightly flatten it, then cut the log diagonally into 1/2-inch (1.25cm) thick strips. Transfer the strips to one of the prepared baking sheets, placing them 1/2-inch (1.25cm) apart. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Bake the cookies in the center of the oven until they are puffed and look dry, 15 to 20 minutes. (When they have baked for 15 minutes ,the cookies will have a somewhat cakey texture; During the last 5 minutes of baking they will harden like biscotti). Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. They will keep, honestly, for several weeks. About 72 cookies