23 September 2008

Peppery Nut Cheese & Cornmeal Cookies

As I mentioned earlier on one of the food boards we have started a Christmas Cookie Bake-Along. I was selected to choose the first recipe for the year. And as I was starting us off, I chose a starter cookie, rather than a sweet cookie. The recipe comes from The Jimtown Store Cookbook, Recipes from Sonoma County's Favourite Country Market. I had not made these before, but I loved the idea of being able to make ahead and freeze both the dough or the baked cookies. Always a handy thing at holiday time!

"This savoury icebox cookie...will earn you a reputation as a stellar hostess. ... The yield is large, but since both the raw dough and the baked cookies freeze well, there's no reason not to stock up." Makes about 100 cookies. Serve as an appetiser, snack, or along side soups or salad.

2 1/2 cups (approximately 9 oz) pecans
8 oz Asiago* cheese, finely grated (about 2 cups)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 oz sharp Vermont white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
1 Tbsp finely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Toast pecans on a baking sheet, stirring a couple of times, for 8-10 minutes. Immediately remove from pan and cool to room temperature. Chop finely and measure 2 cups. Save any extras for another use.

Combine Asiago, butter, cheddar, flour, cornmeal, black pepper, salt and cayenne in food processor bowl and pulse to mix. (Can mix by hand or in mixer if processor not available.) Turn dough out into large bowl and scatter the pecans over the dough. Knead to mix in the nuts until the dough is smooth. Give the dough several whacks to remove any air pockets.

Divide dough into four equal pieces and roll each into a 12" log, 1" in diametre. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.

(At this point the dough can be frozen for up to two months. Thaw frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Line sheet pans with parchment.

Slice chilled dough into 1/8" thick rounds and arrange on prepared pans, spacing about 1 1/2" apart. Reshape to round if they flatten during slicing. Put two pans in the oven at the same time and bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Change positions of the pans on the racks from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking time. Transfer to cooling racks and let sit till they cool to room temperature.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for at least a week and develop more flavour if they sit for a day or two after baking. Alternately the cookies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to a month.

*If you can't find Asiago cheese, aged Parmesan or Pecorino Romano can be used instead.

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