Dark Chocolate Sambuca Cookies

I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas. There was no tree and no Santa, and I never thought twice about it. Not wanting to commercialize religion was something that I could get behind, even as a kid. The one obvious flaw I could find in this whole plan, however, was the apparent lack of joyous holiday traditions: caroling, decorating, Christmas baking. Especially Christmas baking.

Fortunately, my parents weren't averse to finding ways to occupy the calendar holiday, and food was a popular way to observe December 25. To this day, I'm a bit puzzled by many holiday customs and protocols, but the annual exchange of baked goods is something I look forward to with a good amount of genuine Christmas cheer. This year, these cookies were my very satisfactory attempt to celebrate the season.

I agree with most holiday bakers that Christmas treats beg to be full of spice. That concession, however, is where I bid adeiu to the bulk of holiday cookie trays in the American Midwest. Something intensely chocolate is too often missing, and I do think spice can come from ingredients beyond a dusty bottle of dried ginger.

Here, licorace-ey sambuca provides a hint of the exotic and pays homage to the traditional Anisette cookies the Italians make this time of year. The sambuca, combined with dark cocoa, yields a tender little shortbread that's an absolute winner with a glass of milk or a cup of tea.

The recipe is freely adapted from Nigella's double chocolate Christmas cookies. Her recipe is great as written, but I've cut down on the sugar, added salt, subbed Dutch cocoa for regular, and infused both the cookie and the icing with the fragrance of sambuca to create a very grown-up chocolate biscuit.


Dark Chocolate Sambuca Cookies
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Makes 26 cookies

Ingredients

2 1/4 sticks softened unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

3 tbsp sambuca

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

For the icing

3 tbsp cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1/4 boiling water

1 teaspoon sambuca

nonpareils

Method

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cream butter and sugar in a bowl. When you have a soft, whipped mixture, beat in sambuca and cocoa powder, followed by the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and pinch of salt.

Roll dough into 1 tbsp-sized balls and slightly flatten them as you place them on your cookie sheet.

Bake each batch for 15 minutes and not a minute longer. Cookies will continue to cook as they cool.

To make the icing, combine cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar, boiling water, and sambuca in a small saucepan. Whisk over low heat until smoothly combined and remove from heat for 10 minutes before icing cooled cookies.

Dribble cookies with chocolate glaze six at a time, using the back of a spoon to spread. Once you've iced six, sprinkle with nonpareils and repeat with remaining cookies.

Store cookies on a plate for up to one day. If there are any left after 24 hours, transfer to a container. It's possible these cookies taste even better the second day, as the glaze has settled into the cookie.

Christmas Scotch Eggs

This year I'm making plenty of these to accompany the Champagne-fueled holiday preparations taking place in my kitchen, but Scotch eggs are also excellent at a holiday brunch and help conjure up a spirit of Victorian excess at parties—just right for Christmas.

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Speaking of the Victorians, apparently they were fiends for these boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, coated in bread crumbs, and deep fried in oil. The Mrs. Patmore-types would load up a big hamper with them, and everyone would disappear into the countryside with the Scotch eggs, a few dozen pigeon pies, and a crate of Champagne.

There are hundreds of recipes out there, but I don't see any reason to look beyond this one. The sausage is mixed with a healthy grating of nutmeg, herbs, and mustard. The eggs are soft boiled, and the whole thing is coated in a crispy panko crust. It may seem like a daunting task to wrap raw sausage around a soft-boiled egg, but believe me when I tell you that the most arduous step in this process is peeling the boiled eggs.

When preparing such decisively British food, it is a good idea to perform your absolute best impersonations of the Two Fat Ladies. That will almost certainly make this experience more enjoyable.


Scotch Eggs
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Makes 4 eggs (probably enough for 8 people)

Ingredients

5 large eggs

1 lb ground pork sausage

1 handful chopped chives

1 handful chopped parsley

1 tbsp English mustard

freshly grated nutmeg

freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup panko

vegetable oil for deep-frying

 

Method

Put 4 of the eggs into a pan of cold water and bring to a boil for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes (3 1/2 for runny as pictured above; 4 for just-set yolks). Transfer to a bowl of cold water and peel once cooled.

Combine sausage with the herbs, a grating of nutmeg (about 1/4 teaspoon), mustard, and pepper. Divide into four balls.

Prepare 3 plates - one with flour, one with beaten egg, and one with panko. Flour your hands, and flatten the first sausage ball into an oval patty. Roll a peeled egg in flour, then gently shape the sausage around the egg. Roll the meat-wrapped egg in flour, dip into beaten egg, then roll in panko. Repeat with 3 remaining eggs.

Heat 2 1/2 inches oil in a deep pan to 300ºF. Carefully lower the eggs into the pan and cook for about 4 minutes, turning halfway through, until golden. You may have to work in batches to avoid crowding.

Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. If you're at all concerned the sausage may not be fully cooked, simply pop the eggs into a 400ºF oven for a few minutes.

Serve Scotch eggs warm with more English mustard on the side.