Every year, I give up sugar for January. My palate needs a serious cleanse after stuffing my face with eggnog and fudge for most of December, and I like to start the year off practicing restraint. The rules are somewhat vague, but the banned items include not only desserts, but added sweeteners both chemical and natural, and under its many names: no honey, no agave, no dextrose, no concentrated apple juice, and so forth. A banana or a glass of milk is acceptable, Kettle Chips with sea salt and crushed black pepper are not, as they contain added sugar.
You think you know what you are giving up, until you start checking labels. This means giving up most charcuterie and sausages, almost all grocery store breads, and here in the Netherlands, canned beans. What? Yes, it’s true. Sugar lurks in so many unexpected places.
I’d recommend setting a time to give up sugar, if only to open your eyes and to develop a habit of checking labels, but I’m not here to get you to cleanse, I’m here to give you cookies.
I brought Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies, one of my favorites, to an event at the very end of January. It worried me to serve them without tasting them (plus I wanted to eat them), but I’ve made them many times in the past and followed the recipe exactly.
February 1st rolled around and my husband and I greedily ate the few leftover cookies for breakfast. Delicious! However; these are made with a chocolate shortbread dough and the European sugar I now use (of course it had to be the sugar) threw off the texture.
I’ve made some small adjustments (in the process recipe testing a bit more, poor me), if you use turbinado or another sugar with large crystals, or if you have difficulty accessing good brown sugar.*
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup raw cacao powder**
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (11 tablespoons)
3/4 cup white sugar, run through a food processor for a few whirs. Don’t turn it into powdered sugar, just reduce the granule size.*
1 tablespoon molasses or date syrup*
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Sift the flour, cacao powder, and baking soda together.
Beat the butter on medium speed with a hand mixer, or with all your might by hand, until it is soft and creamy. Add the sugar, salt, molasses, and vanilla and beat for 2 more minutes.
Add the dry ingredients, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and mix for a few seconds. Mix only until incorporated – the dough should resemble meal and won’t look like it will hold together.
Fold in the chocolate, just until incorporated.
Use your hands to press the dough together and divide in half. Shape each half of the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches thick (that’s 4 cm) and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill anywhere between 3 hours to a few days before baking, or go ahead and put them in the freezer for longer storage.
Fully preheat the oven to 325 °F (that’s 165 °C).
Slice one of the logs into 1/2 inch thick rounds (just under 1.5 cm), and set them on a parchment lined baking tray. Press any crumbling rounds back together, and leave around 1 inch (2.5 cm) of space between the cookies.
Bake for exactly 12 minutes. Don’t wait until they look done, or until it feels right — set a timer and take them out at 12 minutes. If you are baking from frozen dough, you have permission to bake for 13 minutes. Let the cookies rest for a few minutes on the baking tray before transferring them to a cooling rack. If you, like me, only have one baking tray, move on to the second log of dough now, or store it in the freezer for later.
Enjoy just barely warm to room temperature. Pairs perfectly with a dark coffee or a cold glass of milk.
* Brown sugar in North America is made from sugar and molasses. If the ingredient list contains colors, caramel flavoring, etc, use my method instead and make your own. If you are indeed making these with “normal” American ingredients, use 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar and 1/4 cup sugar for your sweeteners, as Dorie calls for in her book.
** If you are making this in an American kitchen, you are likely using natural cocoa powder, which is the standard. While the two may differ nutritionally, they function the same way in this recipe — proceed! I’ve listed it like this because typical cocoa powder in Europe is Dutch processed and cannot be used here, as it will change the chemical reaction. You can often find raw cacao powder at health food stores or marketed as a superfood.
I’d like to thank Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan for developing these, as Sablés Chocolats, Sables Korova, and finally, Word Peace Cookies, and to The Splendid Table for first bringing them to my attention. You are all heroes.