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Chocolate coconut cookies have intriguing spice notes

If you've been a reader of my column these past many years, you know you can expect one thing from me as surely as the fact that I love to help people cook and eat the best food possible: When December rolls around, at some point I'm going to turn my attention to Christmas cookies.

My love of holiday baking goes back to my earliest childhood memories. Every year, the kitchen of our little home in the southern Austrian town of Sankt Veit an der Glan seemed always full of the rich, sweet, and spicy aromas of Christmas cookies being baked by my mother and grandmother. Guests who dropped by were offered cookies with coffee or tea.

When we visited friends, we brought assortments of our homemade holiday treats. And, of course, my brother, sisters and I ate plenty of the cookies ourselves at home, some of which we'd be served as snacks or desserts - and some, of course, that the four of us would sneak when the grownups weren't looking.

This year, I'd like to share with you yet another cookie recipe you haven't seen from me before in this column: Chocolate Coconut Spice Cookies, a classic from Spago. I think they make a great cookie to add to your seasonal repertoire, for a number of reasons.

First of all, they're easy to make. I think that is essential not only because this is the busiest cooking time of the year but also because they are something the whole family can enjoy preparing together.

You probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry or can find them in any supermarket. And, being slice-and-bake cookies, the dough can be mixed in advance and kept chilled in the refrigerator, ready for baking as needed.

Next comes the wonderful way in which these cookies are both familiar and yet different enough to make people open their eyes with surprise and delight at first bite. At first glance, they're simply chocolate-flavored, buttery cookies with an attractive rim of shredded coconut. But the very first bite reveals a very pleasing surprise: very subtle but noticeable hints of black pepper and cayenne, not too spicy at all but just enough to counterpoint and emphasize the delicious chocolaty flavor.

When you think about how many other traditional Christmas cookies have the word "spice" in their names, you'll instantly understand how perfectly appropriate these seasonings are here.

With the recipe's yield of five dozen cookies, easily multiplied if you allow yourself sufficient time to make several batches, you'll have enough to share as festive gifts. Pack the cooled cookies in colorful airtight containers, with single layers separated by sheets of waxed paper. They're a gift anyone on your list will welcome!


Makes about 5 dozen

1 1/3 cups (335 ml) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup (185 ml) unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

6 ounces (185 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces

1 cup (250 ml) granulated sugar

1 large egg

11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened shredded coconut

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and black and cayenne peppers. Set aside

In the large bowl of an electric stand mixer, using the paddle or beaters, soften the butter at medium speed. Sprinkle in the sugar and, as soon as it is incorporated, raise the speed to high and continue mixing until fluffy, stopping as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Reduce the speed to medium, add the egg and vanilla, and continue beating just until they are incorporated. Reduce the speed to medium-low and, still beating, gradually add the flour mixture, continuing to mix just until combined.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a clean work surface. If it seems too soft to shape, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it firms up a bit, about 1 hour.

With very lightly floured hands, roll the dough into an even log shape about 15 inches (37.5 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Sprinkle the coconut evenly on the work surface and then roll the log in the coconut to coat it evenly all around and from end to end. (Gather up and reserve excess coconut.) Wrap up the log in clean plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled and very firm, preferably overnight but at least 2 to 3 hours.

Before baking, position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350∞F (175∞C). Line 1 or 2 baking trays with parchment paper.

Remove the plastic wrap from the dough log. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on a clean work surface and reroll the log as needed to coat areas that don't have enough coconut. With a very sharp knife, cut the log crosswise into slices about 1/4 inch (6 cm) thick, forming about 60 slices total, placing them about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the prepared baking trays. Bake until the coconut looks lightly toasted, about 10 minutes total, rotating the baking trays back to front about halfway through.

When the cookies are done, use a wide metal spatula to remove them from the baking tray, transferring them to a wire rack to cool. When completely cooled, store at cool room temperature in an airtight container in single layers between sheets of waxed or parchment paper.


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