Sometimes I like to marvel at how far my tastes have come in the past ten years. If you’d told my barely-20 self that my poison of choice in the future would be gin, I’d have said you were crazy. If you’d prophesied that I’d cook with coconut milk on a regular basis and have an uncontrollable addition to chocolate-covered macaroons, I’d have recoiled in horror. And if you went on to tell tales of my love of anise, you would have made me straight-up sick.
For years, anise was my sworn enemy (second only to the onion). I can still remember rifling through one of our snack drawers when I was a child and happening upon what appeared to be a bag of hidden, secret candy, only to remove it and discover that it was black licorice. Still candy, but the worst kind. Gross, old people candy. That bag hung around for a while (I think my brother was the only one who would eat them, infrequently), and it tricked me numerous times. It was evil and I hated it. The end.
The breakdown of my anise hatred began with my Italian ex’s family. There was one Easter when his nonna brought out a plate of raw fennel slices for everyone to snack on before dinner. Having no idea what they were, I grabbed one, took a bite, and had a pause-with-your-mouth-full moment where I thought, “uh oh, I think I taste something that makes me unhappy.” But I kept chewing. And I realized it actually wasn’t all that bad. Then a little later, she brought out the fennel quiche, and I was hooked. And then there was the other nonna who would make tiny anisette cookies, and those pretty much solidified it. I had a new, unexpected love.
I’ve started to see this new-found love bleeding into my cocktail tastes as well. That began the first time I tried a Corpse Reviver #2, and promptly declared it to be once of my favorite drinks, ever. There’s only a drop or two of absinthe in it, but it’s the flavor that stands out most to me, tying the entire thing together. It’s clear to me that my tastes buds aren’t ready to go full speed ahead on this yet, however (as evidenced by the fact that I can only enjoy a Sazerac in the tiniest of sips). But it’s another step in a good direction.
Now, before I get distracted by talking drinks, I’ll switch to talking about cookies. This past weekend I was flipping through the recipes in The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, when I happened upon the recipe for Double-Chocolate Cookies. I glanced over the ingredients and realized I had everything I needed, and decided that’s what I’d be making. Then I turned the page, and my eyes settled on the words “Sesame-Absinthe Cigars,” and then immediately darted over to the picture on the facing page of what appeared to be a tasty little Italian cookie, covered in sesame seeds. After reading the recipe introduction which described them as “more of a biscotti-style treat” that are “easy to overlook when faced with the sweet and chocolatey options in Blue Bottle’s pastry cases,” but then went on to note: “don’t let their subtlety fool you; they are one of the most popular items among our staff, and my very favorite cookie to make,” I knew what I had to do. It was going to be a TWO-COOKIE WEEKEND.
The end result: I. Love. These. Cookies. I love them more than the double-chocolate ones. They are eggy and just a little chewy, with lots of other wonderful complexities going on. There’s the herbaceous anise edge from the absinthe, a hint of olive oil, and the occasional savory burst of salt, all surrounded by the toasty, crunchy sesame seeds. I’ve been eating them all the time, at any given point during the day. But I think they would make a particularly wonderful treat with early morning coffee. Please make them. Especially if you like biscotti or Italian cookies. They aren’t the prettiest cookies at first glance, but I promise you — they’re awesome.
yield: 24 cookies
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp plus 1/4 cup of absinthe (You can substitute Pernod, Herbsaint, Pastis, or any anise liqueur if you don’t have absinthe on hand — I actually only had 1/8 cup of absinthe, so I subbed in an additional 1/8 cup of Root liqueur instead)
- 1 cup of sesame seeds
Preheat your oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
Sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder together into a medium bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the flour mixture, then pinch and rub between your fingers until the texture resembles fluffy cornmeal (this should take about 5 minutes).
Make a well in the center of the mixture. Crack the eggs into the well. Add the 1 tbsp of absinthe, then immediately begin whisking the eggs vigorously with a fork to incorporate the two as quickly as possible, before the eggs begin to curdle from the alcohol. Begin gradually mixing the flour mixture into the eggs, working until fully incorporated.
Generously flour a work surface, then turn out dough. Knead until the color lightens significantly, the dough is smooth, and the oil is fully incorporated (around 3 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.
Put the remaining 1/4 cup of absinthe into a bowl, and put the sesame seeds in a separate, shallow bowl. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each dough into a rope about 18 inches long. Cut into 6 equal pieces, each about 3 inches long. Dip each piece in the absinthe, then roll in the sesame seeds until evenly coated.
Place cookies on the baking sheet at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake for around 12 minutes — rotating the pan once halfway through — until the sesame seeds are a very light golden brown, but the cookies are still pale.
Remove cookies from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes on the pan.
These are amazing when they’re fresh from the oven, but I’ve been enjoying them even a few days later!