Author Dorie Greenspan’s prodigious new cookbook is “Dorie’s Cookies.” This isn’t any ordinary cookie book. It’s a tome — an encyclopedia of one baker’s obsession with cookies, featuring over 300 different recipes to suit every occasion imaginable. “Once you start thinking of a cookie as having infinite possibilities, it just comes to you,” says Greenspan. The cookie-obsessed will find everything they’re craving in her new book. Published just in time for the holidays, you’ll find recipes like this one for Swiss leckerli.
“Leckerli is a kind of spice cookie, in the gingerbread and pain d’épices (French spice cake) family, but with deep roots in Switzerland. In fact, even in the Alsatian region of France, where leckerli is a tradition, it’s called leckerli de Bâle, giving recognition to its city of origin, Bâle, or Basel. The story goes that leckerli, made from a heavy dough of honey, sugar, candied zest and almonds, baked and glazed, debuted in the mid-1400s. The glaze, however, was a laggard — it didn’t show up until the eighteenth century.
Like pain d’épices, leckerli, which is associated with Christmas but made all year-long, can be one thing or the other. It can be somewhat hard (although it should never be dry) or it can be soft (mine is softish and chewy); it can be chockablock or lightly studded with candied orange or lemon or citron peel or a combination (I use candied orange peel and some fresh lemon zest); and it can be very spicy or just a little spicy (mine’s just spicy enough). What doesn’t vary is the fact that it’s baked in one big piece and then glazed before it is cut into smaller pieces.
I love recipes with history, but I also love recipes with leeway, and this one’s got both. Have fun with it, and if you want to make it part of your family’s holiday tradition, make it your own: Decide on the spices you like best, the kind of candied peel and the size of the pieces.
And if history, fabulous flavor and a touch of exoticism aren’t enough to make this a holiday stalwart, there’s convenience: Lecklerli is meant to “age,” so you can make it up to two weeks ahead — a joy during a busy time.”
try these recipes for her savory rosemary-Parmesan shortbread cookies and holiday spice leckerli on the Good Food blog.
Plan ahead and prepare your dough at least 1 to 2 days in advance to allow it time to rest and develop flavor.
Yield: Makes about 60 cookies
⅔ cup (160 ml) honey
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 g) candied orange peel, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 cups + 2 tbsps (287 g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (100 g) sliced almonds, unblanched or blanched
2 tbsps kirsch, Grand Marnier or dark rum (optional)
½ cup (60 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1½ tbsps water
1 tbsp kirsch, Grand Marnier, dark rum or water
Flavor the honey: Pour the honey and sugar into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Watch carefully to prevent the honey from bubbling over once it boils. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the candied peel and lemon zest and scrape into a large bowl. Set aside and cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes.
While the honey is cooling, whisk together the flour, baking soda and spices.
Prepare the dough: Using a sturdy flexible spatula or a wooden spoon, stir the almonds and the kirsch (or other alcohol, if using) into the honey mixture, then gradually add the dry ingredients. You’re going to end up with a very heavy dough, so be prepared to put some muscle into the mixing.
Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with flour and shape it into a square. Dust the top surface with flour, then sandwich it with another sheet of parchment paper and roll it into a 12-inch square. Don’t worry about precision, but do try to get the dough a scant ½- to ⅓-inch thickness. Slide the sandwiched dough onto a baking sheet, wrap the setup in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 2 days or keep it at room temperature for 1 day.
Bake the dough: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Peel the parchment paper away from the top and bottom of the dough and place the dough on the lined baking sheet. Bake the leckerli for 13 to 15 minutes, or until it is golden and puffy; it may crack, but that’s fine. Simply press the dough back together gently, as it will be soft. Slide the leckerli, still on its parchment paper or mat, onto a cooling rack.
Prepare the glaze: Meanwhile, combine the confectioner’s sugar, water and kirsch in a bowl and stir until smooth.
Glaze the leckerli: Using a pastry brush, brush the glaze evenly over the entire surface of the warm leckerli. If some drips down the sides, that’s fine. Allow the leckerli to cool to room temperature.
Cut the leckerli: Carefully slide the leckerli off the parchment and onto a cutting board. Working with a chef’s knife or other long knife, trim the edges and cut the leckerli into 3-inch-wide strips. Now section the strips into ¾-inch-wide cookies.
To store: Greenspan says the leckerli will keep for up to 2 weeks if packed in a container with lined with parchment or wax paper between each layer. The trick keeping the cookies moist is to insert a slice of apple into the container, should they get hard. For longer storage, pack the leckerli in an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months. (Note: The glaze might not fare well, in which case a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar will cover up any imperfections.)
All photos by Davide Luciano