These Spicy Chocolate Beauties Are Perfect for the Holidays — or Anytime
These cookies originated in Austria, where they are called Wienerstube. But we find it easier to pronounce their Anglicized name: Chocolate Pepper Cookies. One taste, and you may decide to just call them “My New Favorite Cookie.”
These are a bit less sweet than some other cookies, and their spicy, complex undertones make them perfect for grownup occasions (though kids like them too). Their sophisticated combination of chocolate and pepper isn’t spicy hot, but you definitely notice a bit of a tingle on your tongue. And they’re equally at home with a glass of milk, a cup of tea, a cocktail, or a glass of wine.
We often make these as a Christmas cookie. But they’re great anytime you’re craving something chocolate with a bit of oomph. Best of all, you can freeze the dough, and then just cut off a bit and bake a few cookies at a time.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Recipe: Chocolate Pepper Cookies
Although Wienerstube are a traditional Viennese cookie, that aren’t well known in the US. Mrs. Kitchen Riffs discovered them in one of Maida Heatter’s delightful cookbooks, her 1977 Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies (this recipe is Mrs K R’s very slight adaption of that one).
Chocolate and black pepper are magical together. Once you serve these cookies to friends, they’ll never forget them. And they’ll definitely be asking for the recipe.
This is a classic icebox cookie: After you mix the dough, just shape it and allow it to firm up in the refrigerator (or freezer) before cutting it into cookie shapes and baking. Mixing the dough takes 20 to 30 minutes. Then you need to let the dough chill for at least a couple of hours (overnight is better). Cutting the cookies and baking them takes another 12 or so minutes per sheet.
This recipe produces about 4 dozen cookies, and it’s easy to double (in fact, Mrs K R always makes a double batch). Leftovers keep well for a few days, or they can be frozen.
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (grind it as fine as you can; freshly ground makes a world of difference)
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder (see Notes)
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon salt (I like kosher salt)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional but really tasty; see notes)
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa (Hersey’s works well; see Notes)
- 1½ sticks butter (6 ounces)
- 1 cup sugar (the ordinary granulated kind)
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract (see Notes)
- 1 large egg (consider using pasteurized; see Notes)
- wax or parchment paper (to help shape the cookies)
- Grind the black pepper as finely as you can. (We have a coffee grinder that we use exclusively for grinding spices.)
- Whisk together the flour, black pepper, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, salt, cayenne pepper (if using), and cocoa, making sure you thoroughly mix the ingredients. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or if using a hand mixer, in a large bowl) cream the butter.
- Add the sugar and then the vanilla. Beat well to thoroughly incorporate.
- Beat in the egg on low speed until thoroughly incorporated.
- On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients (a quarter cup or so at a time). Beat until well mixed (you may have to stop a few times to scrape the bowl with a spatula).
- Tear off an 18-inch length of wax or parchment paper. Spoon a few dollops of dough down the length of the paper, until you’ve formed a strip about 10 to 12 inches long and about 2 inches thick (dough will be soft).
- Fold the paper lightly around the dough. Using your hands to press against the paper with a slight rolling action, shape the dough into an oblong-shaped log. Repeat until you have formed all the dough into long rolls.
- Wrap the dough in the paper, then place in plastic wrap or a plastic food storage bag. Refrigerate (or freeze) for several hours (or overnight; see Notes) until firm.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place one rack in the lower third position, the other in the upper third position.
- Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil, or use a silicone baking mat like the French Silpat.
- Unwrap the chilled dough (which should now be very firm) and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into slices of ¼ inch or so. Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about an inch apart.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Halfway through, reverse the cookie sheets (switch from top to bottom, and front to back) to ensure even baking. When you press a fingertip to the top of a cookie and the cookie just springs back, they are done. Don’t overbake!
- Transfer cookies to a plate to cool.
- You really want to use freshly ground black pepper in this recipe — the perfume of freshly ground makes an enormous difference in the final flavor of the cookie.
- Although this cookie is delicious even without the cayenne, I strongly suggest using a bit. It really adds a nice hit of extra spiciness. If you’re worried about the heat, start with just a pinch, and then adjust to your preference.
- Almost every baking powder you’ll find on your grocery shelf is “double-acting.”
- Baking powder does become weaker over time (and most baking powder tins have an expiration date). So replace your baking powder when necessary. I usually replace mine once a year, when daylight savings time ends (so I remember to do it).
- It’s a good idea to shake your baking powder before using it to make sure all its components are well mixed. Baking powder consists of baking soda, an acidic ingredient (which reacts with the baking soda to produce leavening), and a neutral substance (usually corn starch) to provide bulk.
- Common brands of baking powder include Clabber Girl, Calumet, Rumford, and Argo. They all work, though in the past I’ve tended to favor Clabber Girl. At the moment I’m using Argo.
- You can use a fancy unsweetened cocoa in this recipe if you like. But the ubiquitous (in the US) Hershey’s cocoa powder is actually pretty good, and also relatively inexpensive. It works well in this recipe.
- Good vanilla extract contains no sugar. So check the label on yours — you may be surprised at what you see.
- You want to use real (pure) vanilla extract in this recipe. Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol for several months. BTW, the FDA requires that pure vanilla extract contain at least 35% alcohol.
- If the label doesn’t say “pure,” that means it’s made from synthetic vanilla. The artificial kind is usually derived from the sapwood of several species of conifers — or from coal extracts!
- The flavor of some imitation vanillas can be nasty. You don’t have to spend a fortune on pure vanilla extract, but getting decent quality does mean spending a bit more for something that’s not loaded with sugar or imitation flavoring. Do yourself a favor and get the real stuff.
- You can also use vanilla beans, but for baking that’s a pain.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So I suggest using pasteurized eggs for cookie dough. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? Especially since most of us can’t make cookies without tasting the raw dough!
- You can easily identify pasteurized eggs because they usually have a red “P” stamped on them.
- You can make this cookie dough ahead of time freeze it until you’re ready to bake. If freezing for more than a few hours to firm up, wrap in wax or parchment paper and plastic as directed in Steps 8 and 9. Then wrap again in aluminum foil.
- When ready to bake, you can remove from the dough from the freezer and immediately cut it into slices (Step 12). But it’s easier if you let it thaw out a few minutes (no more than 10).
The Case of the Disappearing Cookies
I took a bite of Chocolate Pepper Cookie fresh from the oven. “Delicious!” I exclaimed. “This might be your all-time best cookie.”
“Ummm,” nodded Mrs K R, her mouth stuffed.
“Good thing we’re doing ‘Cookies and Cocktails’ on the blog so we can tell our readers about them,” I added — shamelessly promoting our latest feature. “Every week a different cookie and cocktail!”
“It’s also a good thing I doubled the recipe,” said Mrs K R, watching me reach for another handful.
“Right,” I said, wiping the crumbs from my shirt. “Maybe I should pace myself.”
“Or maybe I should start making a triple batch,” she suggested.
I like the way she thinks.
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