Now’s the time of the year, with the nights at their longest and darkest and the end of the year reckoning drawing near, that we get a wee bit existential. And one question that has been rattling around in my brain is, can a cookie be a cookie if it’s savory?
As far as existential questions go, I realize it’s not the deepest. But the parts of my brain that have turned to mush aren’t really inclined to ponder questions of life and death right now. Or rather, they’re tired of it, because this year even basic logistics, like a trip to the grocery store, have also become matter of life and death. So: cookies.
The concept of a savory cookie isn’t exactly new. Dorie Greenspan included a chapter about them in her 2016 cookbook Dorie’s Cookies, where she sportingly called them “Cocktail Cookies” because you could eat them with a nice cold glass of gin. They contained butter and sugar and flour like the sweet cookies in the book, but also salt and cheese and savory spices. But what was the difference between a savory cookie and a cracker?
I decided to consult an expert, Molly Yeh, host of the Food Network show Girl Meets Farm and more recently the judge of a savory cookie contest sponsored by Boursin Cheese.
“With a savory cookie, you have to get more creative with decorations,” Yeh tells me. “You can use herbs, fresh or dried, or spices. Flaky salt can look sparkly in place of sanding sugar. There are so many ways to get creative. That makes it different from a cracker.”
Savory cookies also incorporate the cookie-baking technique of creaming the butter and sugar into a fluffy mixture so that the cookie is taller and chewier than a cracker.
Yeh is fascinated by the concept of savory cookies because she likes to incorporate savory ingredients in her own baking. Soft cheeses, like Boursin, work especially well in cookies because they have similar creamy properties to butter. A good way to start experimenting, she suggests, is to substitute Boursin in a cookie recipe that already calls for cream cheese.
“I love making rugelach for Hanukkah,” she says. I really want to make Boursin rugelach with tomato and onion jam. In the past, I’ve also done a shortbread cutout cookie with a chocolate coin on the top, but with a savory version, I could use a coin of cheese and incorporate Boursin into the dough.”
Since Boursin and other soft cheeses contain more salt than butter or cream cheese, bakers should be careful about adding extra salt to recipes. But otherwise, the substitution should be pretty seamless.
“We won’t be doing as much entertaining this year,” Yeh says. “So there’s a lot of pressure taken off. It’s a great time to be experimenting and trying new things. If you mess it up, it’s still going to be delicious.”
Encouraged, I decided to try one of the recipes provided by Boursin, Lemon & Cheese Stuffed Cookies, created by Chef Paola Velez, executive pastry chef at DC’s Kith/Kin (now on furlough) and a co-founder of Bakers Against Racism. It’s essentially a sweet lemon shortbread cookie stuffed with Boursin’s Shallot & Chive flavor. Velez decorates hers with hibiscus Maldon salt, but I didn’t have that, so mine just had regular sea salt and were not nearly as pretty. (A question: were home bakers this obsessed with how pretty things looked before the advent of The Great British Baking Show and all its spinoffs?) I couldn’t quite get used to the burst of savoriness in the middle of a sweet cookie, but my partner loved and has eaten about half of them, even though I just baked them yesterday.
Anyway, savory cookies are as good a baking experiment as any this year. As Yeh points out, you can eat them with soup or cocktails or as part of the main meal. Confining cookies to dessert is so limiting.
Created by Chef Paola Velez, Maydan, Compass Rose DC and La Bodega Bakery DC
- 1 box of Boursin Shallot and Chive Cheese
- ½ lb. (two sticks) soft butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla paste
- 2 Tbsp. lemon zest
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 whole large egg
- 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (466 grams)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1½ Tbsp. kosher salt
- optional: sea salt to taste
- Step 1: Freeze your Boursin Cheese in 1 tsp. sized balls. Freeze for 7 hours or overnight
- Step 2: Cream your butter and your sugars until creamy and pale
- Step 3: Add your lemon zest and mix on medium speed
- Step 4: Add your egg and mix
- Step 5: Add your extract and lemon juice
- Step 6: Now add all your dries and mix until no flour is visible
- Step 7: Using a 1.25 oz scoop, scoop your cookies onto a parchment lined sheet tray
- Step 8: Remove your Boursin Cheese from the freezer and flatten out your 1.25 oz dough. Place Boursin Cheese in the center of your dough and seal.
- Step 9: Press down the tops of the cookies and sprinkle with sea salt
- Step 10: Refrigerate your cookies for 30 min before baking
- Step 11: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
- Step 12: Bake at 325 degrees for 16 min rotating halfway in between