Some Pepper With My Cookie, Please

I was looking for a new twist on a holiday cookie, and I found it in the most unlikely of places -- a cookbook focusing on the Indian Ocean spice route.

"Where Flavor Was Born" is indeed a spicy and lively collection of nearly 100 recipes from the countries and island nations on four continents that surround the world's third largest ocean. (If anyone can find a resource that lists all countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, I'd be grateful.)


Sugar and spice makes everything nice in these cookies. (Kim O'Donnel)

The genius idea of making the spice connection among the cookery of four continents belongs to Norwegian food writer and TV cooking personality Andreas Viestad, who traveled to eleven countries for research, including his beloved Zanzibar, an East African island nation I've been hankering to visit for several years.

Rather than by country, continent or type of dish, the book is organized by spice, i.e. coriander, turmeric and vanilla, an unorthodox approach, but one that made sense after I read these introductory words: "The cooking of the Indian Ocean has many temperaments but only one soul, and the soul is to be found in the spices."

Armchair travelers, take note: This one is for you. The photography is stunning -- and I'm not talking about the food -- rather the people Viestad meets during his travels. Heavy and oversized, the book is not practical for hands-on kitchen use (particularly in small spaces) but if you don't mind the extra step of jotting down recipes, you may be enchanted, as I am, by its magic carpet powers that take you on an exotic culinary journey (not to mention a terrific lesson on the origins of your spice cabinet).

I am still working through this book that seems to keep on giving (speaking of which -- this would make an excellent gift), as I stopped at the "pepper" (as in black pepper; there's another chapter devoted to "chiles") chapter, where I found a recipe for chocolate pepper cookies.

As strange as it may sound, the combination is brilliant, packing a peppery punch that is mellowed by the richness of the chocolate. Below, the recipe as published, with my personal tweaks in italics; I thought that an entire pound of chocolate was excessive and too rich for my tastes, so I reduced the amount by at least 25 percent, plus I added a wee bit of cinnamon and rolled the cookies in granulated sugar for a texture contrast and festive feel. It all seemed to work, and in Viestad's words, "What's important is to create a dish or a neal that tastes good and resonates the idea of a dish."

These cookies probably are not suitable for all cookie monsters, particularly the young'uns, but for the grown folks, these make a swell addition to the holiday sweet tray. I could see these working beautifully with a glass of red wine after a long day of holiday shopping.

Chocolate Pepper Cookies
Adapted from "Where Flavor Was Born"
By Andreas Viestad

Ingredients
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 8 ounces, or half a pound)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I substituted Earth Balance vegan shortening)
2/3 cup fine brown sugar (pulsed for a few minutes in the food processor)
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 teaspoon baking soda (I used ½ plus 1/8)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (can be adjusted accordingly)
4 ounces chopped chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate chips or cocoa nibs
granulated sugar for rolling

Method
Place an inch or two of water in a small saucepan and place a heat-proof bowl that fits snugly on top to make a double boiler. Add chopped chocolate and melt over low heat.

Remove chocolate from heat and allow to cool, to about 100 degrees.

In a mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a food processor, cream butter until light and airy. Add sugar and beat until completely incorporated. Add eggs, one by one, until well combined.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda , cinnamon and black pepper, and gradually incorporate into wet ingredients, until combined.

Make sure chocolate is not too hot, or it will melt butter in the dough. Slowly add melted chocolate, and stir in remaining chocolate or chips/cocoa nibs.

Place dough in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until dough is cool and firm, at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a teaspoon, scoop batter, roll in granulated sugar and drop onto prepared baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until slightly firm on outside. Cookies should be somewhat soft.

Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Chocolate Pepper Cookies
Adapted from "Where Flavor Was Born"
By Andreas Viestad

Ingredients
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 8 ounces, or half a pound)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I substituted Earth Balance vegan shortening)
2/3 cup fine brown sugar (pulsed for a few minutes in the food processor)
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 teaspoon baking soda (I used ½ plus 1/8)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (can be adjusted accordingly)
4 ounces chopped chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate chips or cocoa nibs
granulated sugar for rolling

Method
Place an inch or two of water in a small saucepan and place a heat-proof bowl that fits snugly on top to make a double boiler. Add chopped chocolate and melt over low heat.

Remove chocolate from heat and allow to cool, to about 100 degrees.

In a mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a food processor, cream butter until light and airy. Add sugar and beat until completely incorporated. Add eggs, one by one, until well combined.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda , cinnamon and black pepper, and gradually incorporate into wet ingredients, until combined.

Make sure chocolate is not too hot, or it will melt butter in the dough. Slowly add melted chocolate, and stir in remaining chocolate or chips/cocoa nibs.

Place dough in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until dough is cool and firm, at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a teaspoon, scoop batter, roll in granulated sugar and drop onto prepared baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until slightly firm on outside. Cookies should be somewhat soft.

Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 28, 2007; 9:49 AM ET Cook's Library , Cookies , Holiday Treats
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Comments

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Hi Kim! I'm confused on the amount of chocolate you used. The recipe calls for a pound (which does seem like a lot) and in your narrative you said you used about three-quarters of that. But in the recipe, you have just 4 oz. of chocolate? Is that right?

Posted by: Alexandria | November 28, 2007 10:37 AM

Hey Alexandria, I just added the actual amounts of chocolate I used in itals and moved the additional chocolate at the end of the list, to make things clearer.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 28, 2007 10:55 AM

A resource that lists all the countries? An atlas. Maps are are so very useful in this situation!

Posted by: phoebesnow | November 28, 2007 10:56 AM

Hi Kim, These cookies look scrumptious. I am having my annual cookie exchange this weekend and may try to add these to my contribution. I have already made the wonderful cranberry pistachio biscotti. I have one question though on these cookies --can you freeze them?

Posted by: montgomery village md mom | November 28, 2007 11:45 AM

Hi Kim,

sounds like an awesome book! I love cookbooks with great photography so that one will def. be placed in my list to Santa :)
Koneman publ. did a great series a while back called Culinaria, it was like National geographic for foodies. Big, huge books, but awesome. I collected them all, but unfortunately, they stopped making them after a while :( They can still be found at discount bookstores, for those looking for foodie gift ideas.

Posted by: Kat from Baltimore | November 28, 2007 11:48 AM

But the recipe is still unclear. The directions say, "Slowly add melted chocolate, and stir in remaining chocolate" (you added "or chips/cocoa nibs"). But there IS no remaining chocolate in the original recipe, because you've melted it all in the double-boiler. Were you only supposed to melt half of it or something?

Posted by: WDC | November 28, 2007 11:50 AM

CIA World Book is always a good one:
The entry for Indian Ocean:
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xo.html#Geo

I'm afraid after that, it's download the map and cross reference...

Posted by: Countries | November 28, 2007 11:51 AM

ok - a non-yeast question that I can't wait to have answered until next week. I am catching up on posts as we were in VT for the long weekend (hubby took me to the Inn at Essex, where the New England Culinary Institute is housed - it was GREAT). My question is - they had some specialty/artisan salts available for sale - I thought the web site was artisansalt.com, but that's not the case. Can you recommend a good web site where I can get some of these salts? We used some of these salts on some cheese and in some food that we cooked - it was really awesome!
Thanks!

Posted by: yeastcrazy | November 28, 2007 1:05 PM

WDC: The original recipe says to melt 1 pound of chocolate. But Kim melted 8 oz of chocolate (first ingredient listed) and did NOT melt another 4 oz (next to last ingredient listed). So she added 3/4 of a pound altogether - just not in the way that the original recipe suggests.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 28, 2007 1:07 PM

Ooh, sounds great! Thanks!

Posted by: Kat with a K | November 28, 2007 1:58 PM

I don't know. I made some cookies with pepper last year, might have got it here, and they weren't too popular.

I think of all my cookies I had some of those left at the end of the season.

I'd half it to start 'cause not everybody likes this kind of thing.

Posted by: RoseG | November 28, 2007 3:20 PM

It's funny that you chose a cookie with pepper. I made molasses cookies for Thanksgiving dessert. The recipe called for ground cloves. I didn't have any so I substituted a ground red pepper for that spicy bite. There aren't any left at my house.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | November 28, 2007 4:21 PM

I showed these to my fiancee and he demanded that we have them this weekend. (He'll be baking though, heh heh.) A friend of mine makes similar cookies with Ethiopian berbere spices instead of black pepper, and they are fantastic.

Posted by: Violet | November 28, 2007 5:22 PM

I love the combination of chocolate and pepper. Last year for the holidays I made dark chocolate-covered pretzels using Newman's Own Salt & Pepper Rounds. They turned out great and I plan to make them again.

Posted by: Jwolz | November 29, 2007 10:21 AM

Just had one o' these cookies and ummmmm was it good. Several years go I visited the Chocolate Museum in Cologne, Germany and remember an exhibit about how people thought chocolate was associated with the devil and how people would use various spices with their chocolate to amplify that myth.

Posted by: TdoubleB | November 29, 2007 11:53 AM

I know it's not the same thing, but last year a friend made special holiday cookies for me - they were olive cookies. They contain pieces of oil-cured olives and they were very tasty, although it took a little adjustment eating one while looking at all the overly sweet other cookies.

Posted by: eggplant | November 29, 2007 2:42 PM

I was wondering--do you know what to substitute for egg in recipes like this? I'm just getting started on this crazy adventure of eating no animal products, and these look delicious.

Posted by: new vegan | November 29, 2007 10:37 PM

Egg substitute in baking recipes. Idea for New Vegan and others who may be interested - silken (or smooth or soft) tofu works wonderfully in as a substitute for whole eggs (less well for egg yolks, not a all for egg whites).

Posted by: Monticello in Toronto | November 30, 2007 6:45 AM

Just finished making these, Kim. They are *delicious*! As a huge fan of both cookies and black pepper, this was perfect for me. :) I will definitely be making another round for Christmas Eve!

Thanks for sharing it with us, and thanks for all the helpful tips you've given me for the last couple of years!

Posted by: Milwaukee | December 1, 2007 3:25 PM

Question on the coarsely ground black pepper -- does this mean hand-grinding a Tbs of peppercorns. If so, do you have a handy shortcut? And any tips on getting the ground pepper into the meas. spoon and not all over the counter? Thanks.

Posted by: mtldog | December 6, 2007 10:54 AM

.... and don't forget to put a heaping teaspoon of cocoa into the grounds of the coffee which you will serve with these delicious cookies :)

Posted by: Anna Sargent | December 6, 2007 11:19 AM

An easy way to collect the tablespoon of ground pepper called for is to grind it onto a small piece of wax paper. Then you can lift the paper and channel the ground pepper into a measuring spoon.

Or, if you are near a Trader Joes, get their jar of black peppercorns with a grinding top. This top has a little lid. Leave on the lid and the pepper you grind collects and can be measured.

Posted by: Dana Jacobi | December 6, 2007 1:05 PM

I get that you halved the amount of melted chocolate Viestad called for in his recipe. It is also clear that amount in italics are what you used. But are 12 Tbsps butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and 2 cups flour also what you used?

I just want to be sure so the cookies come out since they look delish.

Dana

Posted by: Dana Jacobi | December 6, 2007 1:15 PM

Hey! Is this Dana, as in "12 Best Foods Cookbook?"
Re: way recipe was written -- yes, I used the amounts you refer to. If this is you, are you coming out with a new book anytime soon?

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 6, 2007 1:19 PM

I'd love to make these but am allergic to chocolate. Any suggestions for how to substitute carob for the chocolate? (I'm aware that they won't taste exactly the same, alas....)

Posted by: manoa27 | December 6, 2007 2:55 PM

You've outed me!!
Yes, I am Dana of 12 Best Foods Cookbook. Next spring, I will have another book out. The Essential Best Foods Cookbook builds from what I did there, enlarging the idea of eating high-value foods, including the cinnamon in these cookies, avocado, cranberries, yogurt and more, into a health-supporting, delicious life-style.

Posted by: Dana Jacobi | December 7, 2007 10:11 AM

Holy smokes, Dana! I am so honored. Please send me an e-mail at
kim.odonnel@wpni.com so we can stay in touch.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 7, 2007 10:24 AM

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