I’m well into my Christmas cookie baking, a tradition I hold onto with fervor. Yesterday was nutmeg log day. The thing about making well-loved recipes is the memories that come with them. I could almost feel that moment when my grandmother arrived at the door on Christmas Eve with her multitude of gaily decorated boxes each filled with a different type of cookie. Nutmeg logs were one of my favorites; never as a young girl did I think I would make my own. They were part of my grandmother, like the Cologne 4711 she wore.
Some Nutmeg History
In the 14th century, a pound of nutmeg was purportedly worth three sheep and a cow; in the 17th century, the little, fragrant nut was valued higher than gold. Like so many spices, nutmeg was initially used as a medicinal; if you ingest enough it can cause hallucinations, and when I was in college plenty of people smoked nutmeg as a legal alternative to pot. I never tried it; I was already too busy grating it into my baked goods.
Less Than Gold
Today, nutmeg is affordable, and it is widely used in French dishes, mostly savory. I follow suit, adding it to soups, stews, ragouts, and even as here, to steamed vegetables. And of course, it goes into many a cookie and a cake.
The Whole Nut
When buying nutmeg, get the whole nut. They keep forever, and you can grate them at will to get the most of their peppery-sweet flavor. You can use an old-fashioned nutmeg grater, a rasp, even the small holes on a cheese grater though there, the grind is more rough
3 cups (450g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 generous teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks; 250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (150g) vanilla sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup (100g) confectioner\s sugar
2. Sift the flour, salt, and the nutmeg together onto a piece of parchment paper.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until it is light. Then add the sugar and mix until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla and mix thoroughly. Gradually add the flour mixture until it is combined; don’t mix more than you need to so the dough stays tender.
4. Form the dough into logs about ½-inch; 1.25cm in diameter. Place the logs on a plate or tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until they are hard.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F; 180C.
6. Cut the logs into 1-inch;2.5cm lengths. Place the cookies on the baking sheets, leaving about ¼-inch; .65cm between each. Bake in the center of the oven until edge of the cookies are golden and they are firm, about 12 minutes.
7. While the cookies are baking, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a soup bowl or plate with edges.
8. When the cookies are still hot, roll them in the sugar. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let cool thoroughly before eating or storing.
About 4 dozen cookies
STEAMED NUTMEG CAULIFLOWER
1 medium head cauliflower, florets separated from central stem, and cut into large bite-size pieces
Fine sea salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, or to taste
About ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup (5g) flat leaf parsley leaves
Fleur de sel
1. Bring 3 cups;750ml water to a boil in the bottom half of a steamer. Place the cauliflower florets in the steamer, and season them with salt. Cover, and steam until the florets are just tender through, 5 to 8 minutes.
2. While the cauliflower is steaming, place the oil in a large bowl. Mince the parsley.
3. When the cauliflower is steamed, transfer it to the bowl and gently toss in the oil. Sprinkle all over with nutmeg, and toss, then add the parsley and toss some more.
4. Transfer to a serving dish or platter, or serve in individual shallow soup bowls. Garnish with fleur de sel.
Serves 4 as a first course