Coooookies? (Spiced)

20190211_202734When I get stressed, or bored, or hungry… I bake. For me, it’s the process of cooking (not the final product) that I love the most. The chopping, stirring, and measuring relax me, and it requires so much focus that I just zone out and forget about my worries. Now that I’m learning to create my own recipes, these spontaneous cooking sessions are a perfect opportunity to take a risk – if it doesn’t work out, I still accomplished my goal of relaxation, and no one was counting on the product anyway!

The details:

Jump to recipe

Thought process:

I am very afraid of taking risks in baking, because I don’t deeply understand the chemistry required for the rise, which means that a lot of things could go wrong. I’m also not good at predicting which flavors will go together, and how strong the flavor will come through in the final product. For all these reasons, I relied on a LOT of help in the creation of this recipe, which CONFINED my ingredient options to a more manageable, less scary, set. First, this was spontaneous baking, so I was constrained by the ingredients I already had in my house. Second, I decided to build off my mom’s basic sugar cookie recipe, so the RATIOS necessary for the texture were all established, and I could focus on the flavors. Finally, to ensure BALANCE, I performed a lot of internet searches about what flavors go together.

From all of that agonizing, here’s the flavors I settled on:


Lemon zest
Grapefruit zest and juice
Fresh ginger
Fresh thyme
Cracked black pepper

That seems like a lot of flavors, but they should all work well together, and I hoped they would harmonize. I also took this opportunity to try a bunch of different glaze flavors. I looked around my house and had available:


lemon juice
grapefruit juice
balsamic vinegar
Amaro (alcoholic) – brown bitter, tastes herby and sweet
Pernod (alcoholic) – light green, tastes like licorice
Campari (alcoholic) – red bitter, tastes herby

Below, the recipe:

8 Spice Cookies
Makes 5 dozen

For the cookies:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche (or just more sour cream)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated on a microplane (see Tips and Tricks)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp grapefruit zest
  • 1 Tbsp grapefruit juice
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • turbinado sugar (or granulated)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F20190210_164736
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on high speed (using a hand mixer or stand mixer) until smooth.
  3. Add the eggs and cream until combined.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, creme fraiche, grated ginger, vanilla, lemon and grapefruit zest, and grapefruit juice
  5. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, fennel, pepper, cloves, and salt. Stir in the thyme.
  6. Add wet and dry ingredients to butter mix in roughly equal portions, alternating: dry, wet, dry, wet, dry
  7. Drop teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets
  8. Press down a bit and sprinkle turbinado sugar on the top (~1/8 tsp per cookie)
  9. Bake 5 min, rotate pans, and bake an additional 2 min until brown

For the glaze:
Enough for 8 cookies

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • Enough liquid to form a drizzle-able glaze. The quantity will be different for different liquids. (Here I tested 6 different glazes: lemon juice, grapefruit juice, balsamic vinegar, Amaro, Pernod, Campari)
  1. In a small bowl, slowly whisk liquid into sugar until you’ve reached the right consistency.
  2. Use a spoon to drizzle over cooled cookies on a baking rack, or dip tops of cookies. Let dry before packing.


2/5 stars.

2 stars

These cookies were pretty disappointing. For starters, they were a little dry. I don’t think I cooked them too long, but I do remember the original sugar cookie recipe being a bit dry. Beyond the dryness, most of the flavor components I added did not shine through. I could taste them pretty well in the batter, but not so much in the baked cookies. Besides “sugar cookie,” the predominate flavor in the final cookies was ginger, and maybe cardamom. This is unfortunate, but my past experience with citrus and thyme is that it’s very difficult to detect the flavor after baking.

For the glazes, the best one was definitely the lemon. This is not that surprising, since it’s such a popular glaze flavor, but it was noticeable. The grapefruit was a much weaker flavor than the lemon. The Pernod was a very strong licorice flavor, which can be polarizing, but was good for what it was. Likewise, balsamic is one of my favorite flavors with dessert and I thought it was great here, but it can also be polarizing. The Amaro glaze didn’t have much flavor, and the Campari glaze was pretty gross – it tasted like medicine. Another note, the alcohol glazes lost flavor overnight, possibly due to evaporation.

Future improvements:

To make the cookies less dry, I could add a bit less flour, or maybe a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. To increase the flavors in the final cookies, I would increase the black pepper by a lot (maybe to 2 tsp), increase the salt to 1/2 tsp, get rid of the fennel, and move the zests and thyme out of the baked portion and into the glaze. I think the hurdle of getting these delicate flavors to shine in the cookies is perhaps too difficult, but in the glaze they would be very prominent. So turn these cookies into ginger pepper cookies with a lemon thyme glaze.


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