Thursday, February 12, 2009

Just there in the background

When I first started making pesto with great frequency, I learned that I preferred to use walnuts in the sauce instead of the traditional pine nuts. As I went through bag after bag of walnuts in the service of great pesto-making, the big container of bulk pine nuts languished, unused, in the freezer. Which is a shame, because pine nuts are totally delicious and do not deserve to be shoved aside. So I did what I do whenever I have a lot of something on hand: I started looking for pine-nut-centric recipes. One recipe that I found -- for pine nut cookies with rosemary-- rose straight to the top of the stack.

This cookie is amazing. Its flavors are unexpected yet totally complementary, with a savory element that asserts itself yet does not at all bully the sweet components into submission. Based on just a cursory reading of the recipe, my assumption was that 3 1/2 teaspoons of woodsy, earthy, pungent rosemary would take over, dictating the cookie's flavor. That can't be good, I thought, but I was too intrigued not to give the recipe a shot.

I was wrong. Deliciously wrong.

Turns out the rosemary adds the faintest herbaceous hint -- savory, a little salty, even -- just there in the background. The ginger adds its own fragrance to the proceedings. The sweet nuttiness of the toasted pine nuts are center stage. The cookies are crispy, yet soft; light, yet rich. Delicate, even with a roster of heady and aromatic ingredients. A study in opposites. A cookie that makes you think.

Now, a pine nut and rosemary cookie is not at all what you think of when you think of a Valentine's Day treat. No matter. Because I don't know about you, but my Valentine -- as a rule -- has a personality that's a little outside the box anyway. I wouldn't have him any other way. And he wouldn't have any other cookie.* In fact, he just said, sheepishly: "Will it make me fat? If I have more?"

*Actually, that's totally a lie. He would eat any cookie I made for him, unless somehow it had green peppers in it. But you get the point: these cookies are tasty, unique and totally unexpected. And your Valentine will love them.


Adapted from "Martha Stewart Living"

3 1/2 t. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted, plus more for topping cookies
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. kosher salt
10 T. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. plus 2 T. sugar
2 T. olive oil
3 T. heavy cream
1 large egg
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. On a dry baking sheet, toast the pine nuts until they are slightly browned, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool; keep the oven at 325.

Combine the rosemary and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are coarsely ground. Transfer the pine nut mixture to a large bowl, then add 2 c. of the flour, baking soda, ginger and salt. Whisk to combine; set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in olive oil. Reduce speed to low and mix in the flour mixture. Add the cream, then mix until well combined, about 1 minute.

Using a spring-loaded ice-cream scoop (or a teaspoon), shape the dough into 1-inch balls and space 2 inches apart on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten the cookies slightly with your fingers, then top each with a pine nut. Sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes, until the edges are golden but the cookie is still pale, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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