During the holiday cookie season, when everyone is adding fifteen different nuggets of things to giant cookies, or dipping them in chocolate, or rolling them in sprinkles, or creating replicas of Monet’s water lilies on them in royal icing, I head the other direction. Because what I want in a holiday cookie is the opposite of those decadent, intense, over-the-top treats. I want a lightly sweet, delicate cookie that pairs well with tea or coffee—more of a pick-me-up than a nap-inducer, something that can be eaten one-handed while working without dumping flurries of crumbs or showers of snowy powdered sugar or shards of chocolate on one’s keyboard or down one’s bra.
I also want a cookie that I can make quickly without turning my kitchen into a disaster area, a cookie with a batter that takes less time to knock up spontaneously than it takes to preheat my oven. And this poppy seed cookie is it. It’s my secret weapon at cookie swaps: while one slutty brownie and chocolate walnut cherry pretzel chunker after another battles it out in the insulin wars, this sneaky little minx of a biscuit sidles up to the judges with quiet elegance.
My whole life I have loved this little cookie, one of the only family recipes we have from my mom’s side, the specialty of her Aunt Ceil. It is, for all its austerity, a perfect cookie. The flavor is mild, lightly sweet, with a backnote of citrus and the musky magic of poppy seeds. It is crisp without being crunchy. It is a snack on its own, but great pals with coffee or tea, or sherry or whisky. It loves to cozy up to a scoop of sorbet or ice cream.
It is a rare oil-based cookie, so there’s no need to soften butter, making it the perfect choice when you want to bake but you don’t have a lot of time to faff about. And if you keep poppy seeds in your freezer, as I do, chances are you always have the rest of the ingredients on hand.
A cookie this small and thin might seem to be calling to you to sandwich with jam or dip in chocolate, but I suggest you refrain. The joy, in no small part, comes from the simplicity, and it just doesn’t need embellishment. I often make them extra-small, the size of quarters, to put in a bowl for easy snacking.
Poppy Seed Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen cookies
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup canola oil
- ¼ cup orange juice (if you make it fresh, strain to remove pulp)
- ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
- ¼ cup poppy seeds
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat eggs until foamy, then add sugar, oil, juice, and salt. Add poppy seeds and flour, and mix until well blended. Drop by heaping teaspoons (I know it looks like not enough but trust me) one inch apart on an ungreased sheet pan lined with parchment. Bake 15-18 minutes, until just golden around edges, but still pale in the center. Remove immediately from sheet to a cooling rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.