I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting holiday baking recipes– my favorites are desserts that are rich, gooey, highly decorated, or a combination of all three. However, sometimes you just want a break from the elaborate stuff and just need something deliciously simple… something you can idly nibble on between multiple courses of festive holiday food without overdoing things.
Enter the butter cookie. Basic butter cookies are amazingly versatile, and can be flavored with all sorts of things without losing their elegant simplicity. In this case I decided to go with a kick of black pepper to set them apart from the crowd. I know that black pepper isn’t exactly an original idea for holiday cookies– Swedish pepperakor are well-known– but most recipes combine pepper with other warm spices and flavors, like cinnamon and molasses. Here, the butter and vanilla background really lets the floral notes of the black pepper come through– it’s not immediately apparent, but after a moment the flavor fills your mouth and it’s nicely aromatic. The pepper flavor becomes a touch stronger as you store the cookies, so keep that in mind– I thought these were even better on the third day than when freshly baked!
These are slightly chewy with crisp edges (or you can increase baking time by about 1-2 minutes to make them crisp all the way through), and would go equally well with honey or a strong cheese on a savory snack tray. I prefer the chewy version, both because of texture and because I find that the toasty butter flavor is more pronounced the longer you bake them, and I like to let the pepper shine.
Black Pepper Butter Cookies (adapted from Genius Kitchen)
Makes 6-7 dozen small cookies
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (2 tsp. if you’re feeling adventurous)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Sugar for rolling
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with foil.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
3. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add egg and vanilla and combine thoroughly.
5. Mix in flour until a soft dough forms.
6. Form dough into 3/4 inch balls (yes, really only 3/4″) and roll in sugar. Flatten onto foil-lined baking sheets, 12 at a time, with the bottom of a glass. The flattened dough will be about 1 1/4″ in diameter.
7. Bake 8-9 minutes until the edges just start to turn pale golden brown. Cookies will puff slightly, but they’ll fall back down flat as they cool. The cookies spread to be just about 2″ in diameter– perfect for a quick bite.
8. Let cool on baking sheets for a minute, then remove the foil from the sheets and let the cookies cool another 5 minutes on the foil before removing them to a rack to cool the rest of the way. Re-use the baking sheets with new foil to keep baking until all the dough is used up. This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so you’ll want to keep going to get them all done!