- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Here’s a different kind of holiday cookie, one with a decidedly Italian flavor. They can be a welcome New Year’s hostess gift, but consider making a double or triple batch so you can also keep a tin of these sunny little treats on your desk for your own delighted consumption.

Polenta-pine-nut cookies are a sweet treat that feels like real food - and they come in handy on days when you might not have had time to eat a good breakfast. Just dunk them in your midmorning latte, hot chocolate or chai, and your energy (and mood) will be restored.

Sometimes it’s nice to chop lemon zest instead of grating it. Chopped zest is more of a presence - an ingredient - in a cookie, whereas grated zest is more of a seasoning. To chop the zest, shave off the outermost peel of the lemon with a vegetable peeler and then chop the shavings into smaller pieces with a sharp knife.

The best cornmeal product to use for this is organic stone-ground polenta (coarse cornmeal), which you usually can find in the bulk bins at natural-food stores.

You can store these cookies a tightly closed container in the freezer. They defrost quickly and even are good frozen.

Polenta-pine-nut cookies

Makes 2 dozen small cookies.

Nonstick spray for the baking tray

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup pure maple syrup (the real thing, not a facsimile)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)

3/4 cup pine nuts

1 tablespoon chopped lemon zest

1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger (optional)

Sugar for the tops

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with foil, and spray it generously with nonstick spray.

Break the eggs into a medium-sized bowl, and beat until smooth. Stir in the salt, maple syrup, oil and vanilla.

Sprinkle in the flour, polenta, pine nuts, lemon zest and optional ginger. Mix with a wooden spoon until completely blended.

Wet your hands, and pick up small pieces of dough, approximately 2 teaspoons apiece. Roll each piece into a ball about 1 inch in diameter, then press each ball into a small circle.

Place the circles on the prepared baking tray, patting them down to about 1/8 inch thick. (The thinness will allow the edges to brown and turn crisp.) Sprinkle each unbaked cookie with a pinch or two of sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cookies turn golden brown around the edges and on the bottoms. (You may peek.) If you like the cookies sweeter, sprinkle them with a little additional sugar as soon as they come out of the oven. It will melt into the tops of the cookies and form a subtle, sweet crust.

Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before eating.

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