Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies

Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Cookies in Cookie Tin

On the twelfth day of Christmas … my true love gave to me … Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies.

After several weeks of nearly non-stop, high-intensity cookie baking, I present you with the final cookie of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon. TA DA!

In the kick off post, I set the stage for this completely new collection of cookies, most of which break rather dramatically from the traditional holiday cookies of my childhood. I really wanted to push my understanding of what makes a remarkable and thus memorable Christmas cookie. I wanted to try new and exciting flavor and texture combinations. I wanted to stretch myself as a baker. As I say in the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night kick off post, I wanted to throw tradition to the proverbial wind this holiday season.

However, I did not change my basic tenets of what makes a cookie a HOLIDAY cookie. Many cookies, perhaps MOST cookies, do not fill this bill in my estimation. Here are the tenets I presented in the Twelve Days of Christmas: Deck the Halls kick off post.

A holiday cookie must be:

  • Very, very buttery
  • Dry, light, tender, and/or crisp–rather than chewy or moist
  • An excellent keeper (must store and/or freeze for 3+ weeks)
  • Small in size, so you can serve and eat a variety
  • Beautiful and festive
  • Fun to make, fun to eat, fun to give

All of this year’s Christmas cookies meet these requirements. And several of them are so incredible, that I will not be able to wait until next December to bake and eat them again. The cookie you are looking at is one of those cookies.

Ingredients for Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies

The first words out of MauiJim’s mouth after eating this cookie and wiping the butter off his lips was, “You CANNOT share this recipe.” Then he proceeded to eat 6 more cookies, claiming they were “defective” and thus not attractive enough for the photo shoot.

Flattening Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookie Dough

In truth, he prefers the defective ones anyway. You know–the cookies that are a little too brown around the edges. He says he wishes I would overbrown all of the cookies, even though it mars their appearance. Does he think those overbrowned edges on half of the cookies happen by carelessness? Ha!

When I asked him why I shouldn’t share the recipe, he said, “WAY TOO GOOD! This one goes in the vault.” Well, I agree that these cookies are some of the best I’ve ever created, but it’s Christmas, and Christmas is about sharing your very best.

Putting Sprinkles on Top of Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies

I want you to taste these amazing morsels—so light, crisp, crunchy, spicy, and redolent with fresh rosemary and cornmeal. And I can’t, unfortunately, bake them for you. So over loud protests from the love of my life, I make you this little offering, from my heart to yours. I hope these special cookies add a little spicy sparkle to your holiday festivities.

TECHNIQUE NOTE   To make these cookies extra easy, I used my favorite, no hassle shaping technique, which does, however, require a #70 scoop (available in kitchenware stores). If you prefer to roll the dough out on a lightly floured pastry cloth using a cloth covered rolling pin, and then cut them out with cookie cutters, that is certainly an option.

Stack of Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies on a Plate

Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies

This wonderful cookie is inspired by the cornmeal butter cookies made by Italian bakers in Italy and America alike. I first sampled a cornmeal cookie many moons ago in a small Italian bakery in San Francisco. As I recall, the bakery featured half a dozen or more varieties of cornmeal cookies. I was enthralled because the notion of adding cornmeal to cookie dough had never occurred to me. (This was before all the great Italian baking books that widened our horizons a few years later.) I loved the corn flavor and the open, crunchy texture immediately. Since then, I have created many riffs on this traditional cookie, but this is my new favorite.

2½ cups King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour 
1 cup fine cornmeal
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1½ cups fresh unsalted butter, at cool room temperature (3 cubes)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced

coarsely ground black pepper
clear sugar sprinkles (I used Wilton’s Pearlized Sprinkles)

  1. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour add the cornmeal and salt. Whisk the mixture well to evenly distribute. Reserve.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar.
  3. Add the almond extract, pepper, and rosemary, and incorporate.
  4. Add the flour mixture and mix very briefly on very slow speed, just until a dough forms.
  5. Using a #70 scoop (1 tablespoon) with a release mechanism, scoop balls of dough, leveling each ball with the edges of the scoop. (Thus each ball will have one flat surface.)
  6. You can arrange the dough balls closely together on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for as long as a couple of days, or proceed immediately to baking.
  7. Coat a baking sheet lightly with vegetable spray. Arrange 12 cookie balls, flat sides down, 2 inches apart, on the baking sheet.
  8. Lay a sheet of waxed paper over the cookies and using a meat pounder or other heavy, flat object, gently flatten each cookie ball to a ¼-inch thickness.
  9. Coarsely grind black pepper over each cookie and then sprinkle each cookie with clear sprinkles.
  10. Bake each sheet of cookies at 350° for about 15 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point to ensure even browning.
  11. Remove from the oven, loosen each cookie with a thin spatula and let cool for 3-4 minutes on the pan. Remove cookies from the cookie sheet and place on a wire rack and cool completely.
  12. Store airtight, in layers separated by wax paper rounds, in a cookie tin in a cool, dry place. These cookies improve with age. They keep for 3-4 weeks. Cookies may also be frozen.

Makes about 6 dozen, 2¼-inch diameter cookies.

There’s More

Check out the entire Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night collection, as well as the kickoff post.

Check out the entire Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Deck the Halls collection, as well as the kickoff post.



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  1. says

    Hi there, stumbled on to this via a Google search “weird cookies” or “unusual cookies”. I was searching for something really different to enter into my company’s annual cookie-off. It felt odd putting in freshly ground pepper into unsalted butter and sugar, but I did it. They came out great! And I won an Honorable Mention in our contest. Thanks!

  2. Mary Piccione says

    This is delicious, but was very unpopular with the 7 and 3 year old (despite putting all his food under a cloud of black pepper or bacon hotsauce, the 7yo declared them too spicy so the 3 yo wouldn’t try them).
    So I did some minor modifications. Now we make half the recipe lemon poppyseed, half rosemary black pepper. delicious both ways and now everyone is happy!

  3. Janet says

    I must admit I was skeptical about these. I made them this morning at a cookie baking party with some friends, and we were all amazed! So good! And very easy!

  4. says

    Thanks for your fast reply!… But I couldn’t wait :) so I made them with the almond extract I had at home (which is from bitter almonds) and they turned out delicious!! We don’t have (in Sweden) the kind of sugar sprinkles you used so I used what we have (if yours look like ice in the color, ours look like snow – does that explanation make sense?) but I will have to find something else to use since it looks kind of weird :) I can send you a picture if you want to see the outcome.
    However, Thank You So Much For The Recipe! I totally love it. I like the idea of combining the sweet with the not so sweet. Love it!
    Nina recently posted…Starbucks.My Profile

  5. says

    I have been thinking for a long time that one should be able to make cookies seasoned with black pepper (I love course black pepper!) and happily I found your recipe, so I thought I’d try this recipe but I have one question: is it almond extract from bitter almonds of from “regular” almonds that you use in the recipe? Since I am in Sweden I will do a version of this recipe (keeping it real as much as possible considering the difference in measurements and ingredients available).
    Best, Nina

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Nina, the almond extact is a bottled flavoring (like vanilla extract). I believe it’s made from regular almonds.

  6. Dakotagal says

    Nice! I have a few rosemary plants and haven’t done much with them this year– what a nice alternative take! The pepper adds such a nice dimension! They baked up relatively easy also. Winner!

    • sms bradley says

      Bless your heart, Renee! I felt that rush of joy too when I tasted that first pan of black pepper cookies from the oven. They really are that good. :-)

  7. sms bradley says

    Hi Patti! No, use regular black pepper. I found this smoked pepper at Whole Foods and have been experimenting with it. I like the flavor of regular pepper better for these cookies however. Happy baking! :-)

  8. Patti says

    I remember the interesting combination of pepper in cookies from your classes at NWCA. These will be awesome and I can’t wait to try them. In the picture of the ingredients on the tray I noticed the pepper is “Smoked”? I’ve never seen smoked black peppercorns. Must I use this kind if I can’t find it?

  9. says

    These look great and I am going to try this. I will try if they will turn out as good tasting as yours. I am really confused with all the instructions. Hard time following.

  10. sms bradley says

    Beth, thank you! It’s wonderful that you are so creative and free in your cooking. It is an art form, like any other, and once the basic techniques are mastered, creativity should be the goal. I am surprised, however, that the olive oil gave you a great texture. You must have hit upon the magic proportion with half butter and half oil. I have never made an all oil cookie that I liked. Bravo! :-)

  11. Beth says

    This is a great recipe. I made them last night, though I made some changes, because I’m terrible at actually following a recipe:

    whole wheat flour instead of all purpose
    1.5 tsp dried rosemary instead of fresh
    regular organic sugar for the sprinkles
    no almond extract (I didn’t have any), instead I used an equivalent amount of water
    half of the butter I substituted with oil olive- which deepened the rich savory flavor.
    Two of my Italian colleagues at work oohed and awed when they tried them. They’re probably the best cookies I’ve ever made!

    Thanks so much for this recipe! What fun! What Flavor!

  12. Sistah Sue says

    Dear Sistah,
    Am LOVING your cookie collection this year!!! So far have baked 3 (more than I can remember baking for a long time) and have tried them out on my best-cook friend. She and I agree, so far, on the garam masala and candied ginger being THE best. But will give the Rosemary a shot.
    Now here is my question:
    When having a cookie-tasting party, what do you suggest as a palate cleanser between cookies? (We used Grey Goose and it worked pretty well even tho it was early afternoon.

    Anyhow am loving the website, MauiJim’s photos and the recipes; so nontraditional, so continental, so GOOD!
    Christmas Blessings to you all!!!

    • sms bradley says

      Oh, Sistah Sue, you will corrupt all my innocent readers. I better come over and save you from yourself and the Grey Goose. I will brew a lovely pot of Darjeeling, and we will eat all of your cookies together. :-) I don’t think Ellen Helen is approving of any of this, however. We MUST bake Pepparkakor!


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  2. […] Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies | LunaCafe When I asked him why I shouldn’t share the recipe, he said, “WAY TOO GOOD! This one goes in the vault.” Well, I agree that these cookies are some of the best I’ve ever created, but it’s Christmas, and Christmas is about sharing your very best. […]

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