Food is a funny thing. On the one hand, it comes equipped with so many quantifiable qualities: vitamins, nutrients, calories and ingredients. On the other hand, so much of what we eat and how we eat is tied to much less tangible traits: what we know, whom we know and what we remember. Food has a funny way of feeding both our bodies and our memories simultaneously. Yes, I’m feeling rather sentimental today.
My Grandma Tauchen is the best storyteller I know, which, I suspect, is largely because she also has the very best memory. Whether it’s experiences from her own childhood, stories from when her kids were little or memories she’s shared with any of her grandkids, she remembers everything: every word that was said, the clothes that we wore, the way she was feeling. She really does remember it all. And because all her stories are so rich in detail and told in that feels-like-this-happened-yesterday sort of way, it almost starts feeling like her memories are our memories. Which brings me to my source of nostalgia…
While she was growing up in rural Wisconsin in the 1930s, Grandma’s dad was a beekeeper. And because I know this factoid about Grandma’s childhood, for as long as I can remember, every story that she’s told about when she was a kid — sweet, funny stories about her parents and her siblings, the games that they played and their trips into town — mixes in my memories with a tablespoon of honey. And to this day, the taste and smell of honey make me incredibly nostalgic for my grandma’s childhood.
I’ve been searching for a honey-laden recipe for a while now, partly for sentimental reasons and partly because I always have tons of it on hand (a neighbor of my grandma’s raises bees on my grandma’s farm and gives her a large supply of their honey every year, which she passes on to us). This honey spice cookie recipe was just what I was looking for. All of the cookie’s sweetness comes from the honey, which makes it a great showcase for that star ingredient. And the mix of cinnamon, allspice and cloves adds a nice punch to the overall flavor.
Just a word of warning: The recipe indicates that the dough is to be rolled out to 1/16 of an inch before the cookies are cut, which feels impossibly thin during the rolling process. But after some trial and error, I think the recipe is right on the mark. The thinner the dough, the smaller and crisper the cookie, which makes it the perfect teatime accompaniment.
Honey Spice Cookies
From the New York Times Essential Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 685)
• 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
• ¼ teaspoon allspice
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• ½ cup mild honey
• 1 large egg
• Sea salt and/or course raw sugar for sprinkling
Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Beat butter until soft, and then beat in the honey. Add the egg, and mix well. Add the flour mixture, and mix until blended. Chill dough for at least 3 hours.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/16-inch thick. Cut out cookies with a 2-inch round, and place cookies about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet (or Silpat). Sprinkle tops with sugar or salt, and bake until lightly browned on the bottoms, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
I love that these cookies have that subtle honey flavor without being overly sweet. Although I sprinkled the tops of mine with course raw sugar to make them a tea-and-biscuits sort of dessert, you could definitely swap the course sugar for kosher or sea salt for a more savory cookie. Or, as the cookbook suggests, try half the cookies with sugar and half with salt to have plenty of each. Oh, and the cookbook also recommends holding off eating the cookies for a few days because the flavor improves with time. I didn’t make it two days before trying them. Or even two hours. But I will say that the flavor today is even better than yesterday, so methinks the wait would be worth it!
Do you have a favorite food or flavor that brings out your sentimental self? Or a great recipe that calls for honey by the spoonful? I’d love to hear about it!