As you know, I’m not exactly the type of person to miss winter. But can I tell you something? When these vanilla spice cookies bake, even in the middle of May, filling the kitchen with a fragrance sweet and filled with nostalgia, I’d swear I was walking around a Christmas market where they sell fresh-roasted cinnamon pecans wrapped in paper cones, the kind you take in your gloved hands, the air visible in front of you as you breathe in and out, your face flushed pink.
It’s like that time last winter when my friend Becky and I drove out to Geneva, on, I swear, what must have been the coldest night ever, on the hunt for homemade candy canes and cups of hot chocolate. After we walked up and down a street of bundled carolers and holiday decorations, our skin cracking and our noses running, what we found instead were frozen toes and fingers, even after returning to the car; a few photos of us, in the dark, standing near twinkling lights; and my first taste of a chestnut, which, in all honestly, smells a hundred times better than it tastes: hot and bland. I don’t often feel nostalgic for nights like those, so it would take something pretty special to make me remember all the good parts: the smell of fresh popcorn from the white tent in front of one of the shops, the gleaming red and gold globes hanging from a tree, the group of musicians who played, hands exposed, as if they couldn’t even feel the freeze.
Let me tell you: these cookies are that something.
They came to me the other night, quickly, because I had the ingredients on hand and because, as icebox cookies, I figured they’d hold up well to shipping. I was planning a package for my friend Jarrelle. You’d like Jarrelle. We met in college, I can’t remember when exactly, but she’s the kind of person that is easy to like, in a way that not many people are, and if she lived a little closer to Chicago instead of New Hampshire, I’d be going over tonight to visit and give her a big hug, which is exactly what she needs right now.
The original recipe for these cookies calls for chopped nuts, which I omitted, and the weirdest thing was that an almost nutty flavor still came through. It’s like these cookies were all the best parts of candied pecans—the sweetness, the slight caramelizing—without the actual nuts underneath. Fresh out of the oven, they are nothing short of irresistible.
Along with the Christmas cookies, I also packed some of Nigella Lawson’s death by chocolate cookies (though less of them because I was afraid they’d melt), which are exactly what you think of when you think of emotional comfort food: rich, decadent, soft and chocolate. Originally designed to be oversized quarter-cup cookies, they are made to be eaten with a big glass of milk, maybe while you watch a movie you love.
Anyway, since you’re so nice to let me talk about cookies again here, I’m giving you both these recipes—a two-for-one post, you could say—and wishing you a happy, wonderful long weekend, filled with friends, long hot sunshine and, of course, something sweet to eat.
Vanilla Spice Cookies
Adapted from Recipe Zaar
The original recipe suggests dipping the cookies in chocolate icing, so by all means try that. I, however, like them just as they are. Also, the recipe as it is yields around 80; feel free to freeze the logs to bake later, whenever the mood strikes (dough may be frozen several months).
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at a medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Next, add egg and vanilla, and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices; add this dry mixture to the butter mixture and combine.
Shape the dough into two approximately 12-inch rolls. Wrap each in wax paper and chill for at least two hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Unwrap rolls and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place on ungreased (or Silpat-lined) baking sheets, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
Cool slightly on baking sheets, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Nigella’s Death by Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Originally, these cookies are designed to be mammoth in size, each created from a quarter-cup of batter dropped onto a baking sheet. I went smaller, but you can definitely experiment.
16 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 F. Set aside 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and melt the remaining chocolate (I put it in the microwave for half a minute).
In a large bowl, combine the melted chocolate with butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Cool mixture. Stir in flour and baking powder. Add chocolate chips that had been set aside.
Spoon onto cookie sheets lined with parchment or Silpats. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until puffed and set to touch. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.