Growing up my one of my favorite Christmas books was The Sweet Smell Of Christmas – a scratch and sniff book about all of the scents of Christmas. It was a magic book filled with every fragrance I loved from the season – apple pie, pine from trees, ginger from cookies. I would scratch and smell and smell and smell, in fact I used the book so much it all started to smell alike, the sugar and ginger from cookies, the pine from trees, and oranges from little bears stocking all became one larger scent of Christmas. I loved that book and how it all became one big sensory seasonal explosion. A few years ago Bari found a copy of the book and bought it for her kids, immediately upon seeing it I yelled it was my favorite holiday book and everyone laughed.
I may have outgrown a book with scented stickers but the smell of Christmas never grows old to me – the fresh pine on the streets where trees are sold, the ginger and sugar of baked goods, and the citrus from bowls of oranges immediately bring a smile to my face. A few years ago I ran upon a recipe for Spice Cookies from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbook Jerusalem, these cookies became a yearly staple and possibly my favorite cookie to bake on dark December nights. They are loaded with warm spices, flecked with chocolate, enlivened by citrus they remind me of my favorite German cookies Lebkuchen that I literally load my bag with on visits to Berlin.
Baking these this year for a friends holiday gathering the scents of spice, citrus, and a touch of Grand Marnier reminded me of the book The Sweet Smell Of Christmas and the joy it brought to me as a child. The nostalgia for childhood smells baked into an adult cookie could there be anything more perfect for a Christmas memory, I might say no. I have made these cookies both with the currents and liquor and without as a kid friendly alternative and both are great. They are warm from spice, hinted of chocolate and citrus, and sweet enough to create a holiday memory for anyone.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
RaOttolenghi’s Spice Cookies – adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
¾ cup currants
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (the original recipe called for brandy but I made this swap and rather liked it)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons best-quality cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated or chopped
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon grated orange zest (plus juice from the orange)
½ large free-range egg
3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Soak the currants in the Grand Marnier (or brandy) for 10 minutes.
- Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate.
- Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest to combine about 1 minute. With the mixer or beater running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute.
- Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together. I usually squeeze the juice of the orange as the dough is very dry and this added moisture helps hold it together and adds some nice flavor echoing the zest.
- Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it is uniform.
- Divide the dough into size of golf balls and roll each chunk into a perfectly round ball.
- Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about ¾ inch apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still soft.
- Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.
- While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth. Pour a tablespoon of the glaze over each cookie, leaving it to drip and coat the cookie.
- Repeat the glaze step for a thicker glaze. Leave to set and then serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.