A little savory with the sweet
By Chef Deb Traylor
Right now, most of us are knee deep in holiday decorating, gift shopping and going to all kinds of parties and events. At some point in the next week or so, many of us will be invited to cookie decorating parties or cookie swaps. While the cookies are the theme, it’s really a great chance for friends and family to connect, have a glass of wine or two, and catch up with each other.
I love cookie exchange parties! But I have to tell you, as someone who prefers savory foods over sweets, I can usually be counted on for doing something “a little different” so I like to bring savory cookies or crackers and spiced nuts. I love the reaction I get when I place my offerings in the mix. It becomes an opportunity to discuss a recipe, or the idea of having balance where food (or cookies) are concerned. Often times I’ll hear, “what a great idea…I’m stealing this for next year,” and if you’ve read an earlier blog post, you know that “stealing” is considered a compliment.
Today, I wanted to share two savory recipes that are great for cookie exchanges and make great gifts, too. First is an adaptation of an Epicurious recipe for Parmesan biscotti that I’ve used for 15 years. I love it, it makes a large quantity, and it’s easy to make. I usually serve it with cream cheese and red pepper jelly, and when I’m giving it as a gift, I include a jar of jelly, too.
The second recipe is for spiced pecans, but it’s different. I boil the nuts in a simple water and sugar mixture, which removes the bitter, tannic layer on pecans and lightly sweetens the interior of the nut. Once the nuts are boiled and drained, they’re tossed in seasonings (I’ve offered several options) and then toasted. I like this recipe because I’m not working with egg whites or hot sugar, and the nut has a clean crisp texture and flavor. Both recipes are the “go to” items I bring to cookie swaps and give as gifts and they’re always well received.
Makes about 4 1/2 cups
- 1 lb. pecans, about 4 heaping cups
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 cups water
Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring water and sugar to a boil, add pecans and bring back to a boil for 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Combine 1/3 cup sugar, salt, cumin, black pepper, paprika and cayenne in a large bowl. Pour blanched pecans into the bowl and mix thoroughly. Transfer nuts to a rimmed baking sheet pan and evenly spread the nuts apart. Bake for 15 minutes, stir, bake for an additional 15 minutes, stir again, then bake for 5 minute intervals until they are crisp.
- It takes a while for the nuts to dry out and the best way to tell if they’re done is to remove one and let it cool before seeing if it is crisp. Hot nuts are not crunchy.
- Feel free to add more sugar or salt, or a variety of spice combinations:
- Cinnamon, cocoa, salt and cayenne
- Garlic salt, rosemary, black pepper (use only a few tablespoons of sugar for this combo)
- Add a few tablespoons of Tikka Masala powder to the original recipe
- We add these nuts to our winter salads, or squash dishes.
Parmesan, Herb and Black Pepper Biscotti
(adapted from Epicurious)
Makes about 5-6 dozen biscotti
- 1 1/2 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
- 4 cups flour, plus additional for dusting
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. cayenne
- ½ tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 2 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (5 ounces)
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- cream cheese and red pepper jelly, for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peppercorns in a coffee or spice grinder until coarsely ground, or use a mortar and pestle, or simply place peppercorns in a zip top bag and crush with a rolling pin.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne, herbs, 2 cups grated cheese, and 1 tablespoon crushed black pepper. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Beat 3 of the eggs with the milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until you get a soft dough.
Place on a lightly floured counter and cut into quarters. Flour your hands and pat each quarter into a slightly flat log, about 12 inches long, 2 inches wide and 3/4-inch high. Place logs on 2 baking sheets, about 3 inches apart.
Whisk remaining egg and brush over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper. Bake until logs are lightly golden and firm, about 30 minutes, switching baking sheet position halfway through. Cool logs until you’re able to handle them, about 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Place one warm log on a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Lay the slices on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining logs, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool on racks for about 15 minutes. Store at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. To serve, spread with cream cheese and top with red pepper jelly, if desired.