On the fourth day of Christmas, ¯¯ my true love gave to me ¯ …Once in a Chocolate-Spice Moon Cookies.
You might be tempted to think that this is just another ho-hum rolled chocolate cookie recipe. But I assure you, this is not the case.
When you open a tin of these cookies, your nose will tell you that there is something special going on here. Aromatic spices combined with chocolate, espresso, orange, ancho chile, and cayenne make these cookies highly addictive and a good choice for afternoon tea, even well beyond the holiday season.
The idea comes from a chocolate bundt cake I developed a few years ago. It has essentially the same flavors as these cookies; and like these cookies, it disappears quicker than Santa can slide down a chimney.
The first time I experienced heat in a cookie was at the home of my soon to be mom-in-law, Ellen Bradley. She served her famous Pepparkakor cookies alongside an antique silver teapot filled with freshly brewed Darjeeling. What a heavenly experience! The heat built with each cookie, until my mouth was burning wildly. And yet, I couldn’t stop eating those amazing cookies.
Ellen’s Swedish Pepparkakor get their heat from a heavy dose of white pepper, but a moderate amount of cayenne suits this chocolate cookie better.
As far as decoration goes, simple seems to work best here. Perhaps a bit of piped, colored Royal Icing, a bare sprinkling of clear sanding sugar, or nothing at all. The dark chocolate color is quite striking on its own.
Once in a Chocolate-Spice Moon Cookies
1½ cups (7 ounces) King Arthur’s unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 cubes), at cool room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks, light beaten, at cool room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon espresso powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon orange oil (or 1 teaspoon orange extract)
1.In a medium mixing bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, chile powder, cinnamon, cayenne, cloves, and salt together. Reserve.
2.Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly, about 3 minutes.
3.Add the egg yolks and continue beating until creamy.
4.Add the orange zest, dissolved espresso, vanilla, and orange oil, and incorporate.
5.Add the flour mixture and mix very briefly, only until incorporated.
6.Divide the dough into 3 equal portions and flatten each portion to a ½-inch thick disk on a sheet of plastic wrap. Seal the plastic wrap around each portion of the dough and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. (The sealed dough can be refrigerated for 2-3 days if necessary.)
7.Remove one portion of dough at a time from the refrigerator so that the dough stays cold while you are working with it. With a floured, cloth-covered rolling pin, roll the WELL CHILLED dough out thinly (1/4-inch or less) on a generously floured pastry cloth. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
8.Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet, decorate with clear sanding sugar if desired, and bake at 375º for 6-8 minutes. Watch closely to prevent cookies from over-browning. It is difficult to tell when these cookies are done because color is not a cue.
9.Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.
10.When completely cool, store in air-tight cookie tins in a cool, dry location.
These cookies improve with age and will keep, if stored properly, for many weeks. You can also freeze them.
Makes about 6 dozen small to medium cookies.