Spelt Almond Cookies
The weather gods have been smiling on Vermont this winter—we have a blanket of snow on the ground but no major storms so far (knock on wood). Blue skies and sunshine beckon everyone who's able to get out onto the slopes and cross-country trails, and resorts around the state are ready. The temperatures have been decidedly frigid, to be sure, but not prohibitively so if you have the proper gear (bless whoever invented silk long underwear!). Even if you're not much for winter sports, it's good for the soul to get outside and appreciate the unique beauty of the season—sparkling snow, interesting ice formations, the drama of leafless trees against the winter sky. Plus I find that a brisk walk outside clears the cobwebs, puts roses in my cheeks, and gives me a healthy appetite for dinner.
This week's cookie recipe is a hearty one, based on flour made from spelt, an "antique" variety of wheat. People have been eating spelt for at least 9,000 years and until about a hundred years ago, it was rather widely used for bread and such here in the States. (It is still popular in Europe, known as dinkle in Germany and farro in Italy.) Whole-grain spelt has more protein and fiber than regular whole wheat, and it has a milder flavor. But you can't use it in exactly the same way as wheat—spelt gluten (the protein that gives baked goods their structure) is weaker than wheat gluten, so baked goods made from spelt alone can be more delicate and crumbly. And spelt flour absorbs more liquid than a comparable amount of wheat flour. For these cookies, I used a small amount of all-purpose flour along with the spelt to strengthen the cookies' structure. Most recipes for rolled cookies call for a resting period in the refrigerator to firm up the dough, but for these cookies, a few hours in the fridge also gives the spelt time to absorb the moisture in the dough, making for a better finished texture. I added some freshly ground nutmeg to enhance the sweetness of the grain, and underscored its nuttiness by stirring in some lightly toasted almonds. The result is a flavorful cookie that takes well to frosting but also tastes great on its own.
To decorate cookies: Divide icing into three bowls and add food coloring to two of them. Cover each bowl of icing with a dampened paper towel. Fill a small piping bag with some of the colored icing and pipe a thin line around the border of the cookies. When you have finished the borders, add enough water to the colored icing to thin it to a just-pourable consistency. Working with one cookie at a time, place a large spoonful of thinned icing on each cookie and use a small spatula to spread the icing evenly to the border. When the icing has dried, fill a piping bag with the white icing and use it to pipe decorative designs onto each cookie. Let dry completely (1 to 2 hours) and serve.