Post sponsored by Volkswagen.
I used to have a huge spice box in my kitchen that didn’t look very pretty and also wasn’t particularly practical. For whatever reason, I decided in my early kitchen years to store all my spice filled glass jars and tiny metal tins in this box and that’s where I kept them for two decades. This beaten and buckled box still exists, I just use it for potatoes at the moment (even a box has to stay flexible in life). I used to arrange my spices in two layers of jars, so when I needed juniper berries from the bottom, I would always have to empty the whole thing. Rather impractical.
Around two years ago, I renovated my kitchen, I changed the sink and cupboards on one side of the room. When everything was set up, I had a skype call with my Maltese mama Jenny to proudly present my work to her. Not that she’s particularly experienced in kitchen renovation, it’s rather the opposite, she still works in her gorgeous sea-blue kitchen gem from the 60s. I don’t remember why, but we started discussing the spice-situation in my kitchen. There’s a slim cupboard with two sliding drawers next to my sink, so when we had our video chat, we both looked at this drawer and decided that it should become my spice cupboard. I arranged everything that same day and since then I’m more than happy to have such a luxurious overview of my spice collection.
The spices I use the most, right at the front when you open the door, are Maltese fennel and coriander seeds, the whole range of peppercorns in black, green, white, and pink, cinnamon, and cardamom. Jars of cumin, cloves, aniseed, allspice, juniper berries, and mustard seeds are right behind. Then there’s the hot section, with cayenne and urfa chilli, plus sumac and a few spice mixtures. I love this cupboard, it’s a bit chaotic, and it’s still a colourful collection of various jars and containers, but it smells beautiful.
Although I generally prefer a certain order in my kitchen, there are zones and tools in this room that seem to follow their own rules. Cookie cutters, for example, tend to end up in places where I don’t even know how they got there. I bought a large metal ring at one point to get my growing collection under control. Every year I buy a couple new ones to add to the classics, to stars, angels, and Santa. I tend to have annual favourites. Squirrel, sausage dog, and deer were popular for a long time, which might speak for my love of cute animals. My collection of three beetles is relatively new, maybe I need a car? Who knows. But apart from giving my cookies a cute look, a cutter should be practical. For example, I barely use the deer anymore because the cookies tend to lose their antlers in the oven, so it looks rather sad. My beetles however are very cooperative, roundish, no narrow parts, and they are even big enough to get a proper royal icing decoration.
I must admit that decorating sweets is not one of my best talents. But I thought it would be nice to bake some cookies at this time of year that you can decorate – especially if there are kids around the baking table. And if you’re as lazy as I am and you have a soft spot for citrus, I have a great alternative for you. Decorate half the batch of these delicious chocolate spice cookies with royal icing (I recommend you trust the pros and buy the mixture from a baking shop) and make your children happy. For the other half, caramelize lemon peel until sweet and crunchy, sprinkle this sticky golden mixture over the remaining cookies and make yourself happy. These are the adult cookies. They aren’t as pretty as the cute hand decorated ones, but the combination of dark chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, aniseed, and candied lemon peel makes up for it. They taste so unbelievably good that you won’t even mind the looks.
For more delicious recipes and kitchen inspiration, visit Volkswagen’s Pinterest community board Food Bloggers for Volkswagen.
Chocolate Spice Christmas Cookies with Candied Lemon Peel
Makes about 50 cookies
For the cookies
plain flour 260g / 2 cups
unsweetened cocoa powder 50g / 1/2 cup
baking powder 1/4 teaspoon
freshly grated lemon zest 1 tablespoon (from 1 large lemon)
ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon
cloves, ground in a mortar, 10 (about 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves)
coriander seeds, ground in a mortar, 2 teaspoons
aniseed, ground in a mortar, 1/2 teaspoon
allspice berries, ground in a mortar, 4
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
butter, at room temperature, 130g / 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon
icing sugar 120g / 1 1/4 cups
organic egg 1
For the decoration
(if decorating half the cookies with royal icing and the other half with candied lemon peel)
royal icing mixture, whisked with a little water, about 60g / 2 ounces
granulated sugar 50g / 1/4 cup
water 2 tablespoons
very thin strips of fresh lemon peel, 1 small handful
In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, aniseed, allspice, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and icing sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and mix for about 1 minute or until well combined. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook, add the flour-spice mixture to the bowl with the butter, and mix until well combined. Form a thick disc, wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F) and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In batches, roll the dough out thinly (about 3mm / 1/8″ thick) between cling film and cut out cookies in whatever shape you like. Keep the remaining dough in the fridge while cutting the cookies. Arrange the cookies on the lined baking sheets and bake, one baking sheet at a time, for about 6 minutes or until golden. Let them cool for a few minutes before you transfer them to a cooling rack.
For the royal icing, whisk the royal icing mixture with a little water (following the instructions on the package) and, using a piping bag with the smallest attachment you can find, decorate half the cookies.
For the candied peel, in a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to the boil. When it starts to caramelize add the lemon peel. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the peel is golden and soft—mind that it doesn’t burn. While the caramel is still liquid (you can leave the saucepan on lowest heat), quickly sprinkle the remaining cookies with the candied lemon peel.