Monday, August 30, 2010

August's Cookie of the Month: Viennese Chocolate Pepper Cookies

As the last hours of August were waning, I realized I had only one egg and no cookie of the month. Panic stricken, I flipped through the pages of The Ultimate Chocolate Cookie Book, inserting a finger to hold a place for every recipe requiring one egg or less. I was out of fingers on one hand, but hadn't quite found the recipe that spoke to me, and my dearth of pantry items (did I mention I have no chocolate chips or baking chocolate in the house?). Then I found it: Viennese Chocolate Pepper Cookies.

Not only does the recipe require just one egg and no chocolate chips or bakers chocolate, it also uses an ingredient that I don't normally associate with baked goods: ground black pepper. Like the lavender in July's Cupcake of the Month: Lavender-Iced Brownie Cupcakes, I had been reading up on black pepper in The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Black pepper is in some ways the opposite of lavender in its ubiquity. It is called for in almost every recipe and is probably sitting in a shaker on your table right now. But like lavender, black pepper is relatively unexpected in desserts.

The real clincher was a gift from fellow blogger Rebecca of a small container of ground black pepper from Penzey's Spices. I must confess my ignorance: I knew nothing of Penzey or his or her spices until Rebecca suggested their Chili 9000 as a remedy for lackluster chili. The Chili 9000 has changed my life, or at least my chili, for the better. Now I thought I'd put Penzey's ground black pepper to the test.

The pepper comes through not as a flavor so much as a temperature. The flavor is unquestionably chocolate, though it seems like a deeper chocolate due to the pepper and allspice. My independent taste tester said the cookies reminded him of winter. Indeed, they would complement the flavors of traditional winter foods nicely. They're a bit on the dry side, so a cup of milk, or maybe eggnog, is a must. I would call these more grown up cookies, but I don't think kids would reject them as tasting weird, though I didn't test them out on any kids prior to posting. Take that, August!

A note on the dusting of confectioner's sugar and pepper: I was out of confectioner's sugar, along with everything else, so I took 2 T granulated sugar and 1/2 t pepper and ran it through my Cuisinart for a few minutes to make super-fine sugar and pepper. If you take this route, be sure to let the dust settle before opening your Cuisinart because, as my still slightly burning lungs can attest, you will have just weaponized your ground black pepper. Despite the chemical burns to my alveoli, I think this worked as well or better than confectioner's sugar would have. And I think the tiny crystals look classier than the traditional powder. Wow, my powers of rationalization for ingredient substitutions due to laziness have inflated to new heights . . . classier? Really? But this step is not to be missed. The additional pepper in the dusting increases the heat significantly. Without it, they'd taste a lot like plain ol' yummy chocolate cookies.

Viennese Chocolate Pepper Cookies adapted from The Ultimate Chocolate Cookie Book: From Chocolate Melties to Whoopie Pies, Chocolate Biscotti to Black and Whites, with Dozens of Chocolate Chip Cookies and Hundreds More by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough


  • 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting the work surface
  • 3/4 C cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 12 T unsalted butter, cool, cut into small pieces
  • 1 C granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 t Penzey's ground black pepper
  • 1/4 t ground allspice
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 2 T granulated sugar


1. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Soften the butter in a large bowl, using an electric mixer at medium speed, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, if still a little gritty, about 2 minutes. Beat in 3/4 t of the pepper and the allspice. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the egg and vanilla until smooth, about 1 minute. Stir in the prepared flour mixture, and beat at low speed just until there are no white streaks in the batter.

3. Dust your work surface lightly with flour, then turn the dough onto it. Roll gently into a 9-inch log, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.

4. Position the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a silicone baking mat; set aside

5. Slice the log into 1/4-inch-thick cookies. Place these about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 6 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and back to front. Bake for another 6 minutes, until the cookies are slightly puffed and the tops feel springy when touched. Cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cool the baking sheet for 5 minutes before baking further batches.

6. Put 2 T granulated sugar and the remaining 1/2 t ground black pepper in a food processor and grind for about 2 minutes, or until the sugar crystals are super fine. Let the dust settle before opening your Cuisinart because you have just weaponized your ground black pepper. Once all of the cookies are fully cooled, place this mixture in a fine-mesh strainer and sift it lightly over the cookies, giving them a fine coating.

Previous Cookies of the Month:
January's Cookie of the Month: Soft Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
February's Cookie of the Month: Chocolate Cream Sandwich Cookies
March's Cookie of the Month: Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
April's Cookie of the Month: Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies
May's Cookie of the Month: Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies
June's Cookie of the Month: Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies
July's Cookie of the Month: Big Soft Chocolate Cookies

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Rebecca said...

You did it! Awesome. Sounds like they are worth making. How many cookies did you end up with?

Sarah said...

About 3 dozen, which is what the book says the recipe yields. So nice to have accurate yield estimates unlike other recipe books that shall remain unnamed, ahem, Martha.