Frosted Peruvian Peppercorn Cookies
When a book I was reading - Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay - mentioned 'Peruvian peppercorns' I was instantly intrigued. I had no idea what Peruvian peppercorns were. A little bit of research told me that Peruvian peppercorns are most often sold as PINK peppercorns. And those I had.
So, I used them to create these fun, pink cookies. They are dotted with crushed peppercorns and topped with a licorice-y frosting. I will share more about the book later. For now, this is just about the cookies.
But this was the passage that inspired these cookies...
P.S. I am enclosing the small packet of Peruvian peppercorns I had meant to send to you for Christmas. In winter the pepper trees here grow heavy and rattle in the arid winds, and I always gather and dry a batch. If you do not have a grinder, you can crush them in your mortar and pestle. Use sparingly. Their flavor is distinct.
And now back to my cookies with a note about the Aquavit-scented frosting...
Despite how long Scandinavians have been making and drinking aquavit, it's largely unknown outside of those countries. It's such a shame because, as a spirit, it's completely beguiling.
The name 'aquavit' derives from two Latin words: aqua vitae and translates to "water of life." The French have a clear brandy eau de vie which means the same thing, but has a very different flavor. I've had more fruit based eau de vie while aquavit is decidedly more spicy. Aquavit has many different recipes and flavor profiles between brands, but the dominant flavor is caraway seeds. This one, from Krogstad, has a strong star anise flavor that I love! It is brilliantly clear with spicy notes and aromas that are smooth and seductive. If you can't find aquavit, feel free to substitute with vodka, gin, or any other clear alcohol; you can also use vanilla extract though that will lend a sweeter note to the cookie.
makes approximately 3 dozen 2-1/2" cookies
20 Tablespoons butter (2-1/4 sticks)
1 cup organic granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon aquavit
3 eggs beaten
3-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon Peruvian or pink peppercorns, crushed or ground in a spice mill
Frosting and Finishing
3 egg whites, or more to thin icing
6 cups organic powdered sugar, or more to thicken icing
juice from 1 to 2 organic lemons
natural food coloring (the red I used was made with beets), optional
Peruvian or pink peppercorns for garnish
Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in aquavit until well combined. Beat in the egg. Add in the flour and ground peppercorns and mix until everything is moistened.
Roll the dough into a long cylinder. Put the dough in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for about an hour, until the dough is firm enough to slice.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough cylinder widthwise into 1/4" slices and place, slightly apart, on the baking sheets. Place in the oven and bake for 16 to 18 minutes until slightly browned.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and lemon juice. Beat for another minute. If the icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it's too thin, add more sugar. Beat in the food coloring, if using. This icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Spoon the royal icing over cooled cookies and push to the edge as much as possible. Crush one pink peppercorn over each cookie. Let icing set before storing or serving.