It's cookie season! Despite my best intentions, I've found myself lingering at the dessert table at for multiple tastes of chocolate chips and powdered sugar, or tearing at packages, hoping that someone has sent me a box of ninjabread men. I guess it's just not December without a cookie tray. But here's the thing: all those cookie trays? They're kinda sweet. And buttery. And after a few social occasions, it can all be a Bit Too Much.
So what to do in this season of cookie overload (beyond saying no to the cookie tray, which we all know is just crazytalk)? Turn to a cookie that's not quite so sweet. Or so buttery. Something a bit salty — briny, even. With a hefty helping of lemon zest. Like this Portuguese sweet lemon and olive cookie.
When I first spied this recipe from the amazing David Leite, I thought that these were just a sort of savory biscuit, some European too-sophisticated-for-sugar affair. But they are decidedly cookies. Just a more complex, salty-sweet version. They're studded with rich, briny, oil-cured olives, and punched up with lemon zest, sugar and olive oil (making them, to the delight of the lactose-intolerant, dairy-free). The sparkly dusting of sugar makes them sweet and festive enough to let you know you're firmly in the celebratory cookie season, but their rustic rough edges and briny notes are different enough to give a bit of a relief from it all. And they go beautifully with a glass of wine, cup of eggnog, solstice ale, or mug of tea — whatever it is you're using to toast the season. Happy holidays!
Portuguese Sweet Lemon and Olive Cookies
adapted from David Leite
yields ~18 cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup oil-cured olives, rinsed if excessively salty, then pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
pinch coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large egg
Preheat your oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Cut three sheets of parchment paper to fit your cookie sheet, and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, chopped olives, lemon zest, and salt. In a separate bowl (I used the measuring cup with the oil), beat together the olive oil and egg until well combined. Pour this mixture into your dry ingredients, and mix well, until the dough comes together when you squeeze it (it won't come together into a cohesive ball, but it'll come together as you shape each cookie).
Lay out one of your sheets of parchment on a clean counter, and set out a small dish of additional sugar (start with maybe 1/4 cup). Pull off generous tablespoons of dough, and squeeze and then roll them to shape into balls. Shape 5 balls, roll them in the dish of sugar until well coated, and place on the parchment paper with ample space between them. Place one of the other sheets of parchment on top, and smush each cookie with your hand to flatten. Take a rolling pin and roll out further, until the cookies are about 4 inches across, and a scant 1/16th inch thick (don't worry about the rustic ragged edges — that's how these cookies should look). Transfer the parchment to a cookie tray, and bake until just browned on the edges and sort of pebbled on top, ~10 minutes. While the cookies are baking, shape the remaining dough for the next round. When done, let cool on a rack (Leite recommends fresh parchment for each batch, but given the short cooking time, I was easily able to cycle through mine). Store in an airtight container for several days, or bring to your holiday party that very night.