The label on the bottle of absinthe in my cupboard boasts that its “complexity comes from the use of fine brandy, star anise, wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop, meadowsweet, basil, fennel, tarragon and stinging nettles.” A tiny whiff of it, and I feel like I can smell every complementary component. A tiny taste, and the unique herbs join hands and dance around a ceremonial fire on my tongue. With a vision like this, maybe it’s not too surprising that the spirit was outlawed in the U.S. for almost a century. (But of course there were other rumored reasons. See 3:10 and 6:14 of this great video.)
I couldn’t help thinking of dessert recipes when I first tasted absinthe, but when I learned about its most historical and quintessential cocktail — the sazerac — I was even more inspired. Cognac or rye, bitters, and simple syrup are swirled with ice, then strained into a chilled glass that has been coated and scented with absinthe — all with a twist of lemon on top. To me, this concoction had a charming old-timey (and delicious) feel, and dreaming up sweet sazerac creations was the natural next step. I settled on tiny, buttery cookies with aniseed and lemon in the dough, glazed with an absinthe-rich sazerac icing.
While a sazerac isn’t traditionally served over ice, I envisioned an imperfectly cube-shaped cookie, reminiscent of the slightly melted ice that results from swirling the rye and bitters. They would have to be dainty as a nod to the olden days, and at about ¾” cubed, their petiteness would match well with their sweetness. Finally, since I wanted the absinthe to shine through the final flavor, I ignored the standard liquor ratios of a true sazerac, choosing to use as much as absinthe as rye in the boozy glaze. Here is the recipe.
Sazerac Cookies [Makes 60 little cookies (3/4" - 1" cubes)]
FOR THE COOKIE DOUGH:
- 1 medium to large lemon
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2.25 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1.25 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment. Using a fine grater (such as Microplane), shred the outer peel of the lemon; set zest aside. Place anise seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle; grind until powdered, set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated. Repeat with vanilla. Sift or sieve over the butter mixture: flour, baking powder, salt, and ground anise. Beat until moist crumbs form. Add lemon zest and mix until evenly dispersed. Using about a heaping teaspoon of dough a piece, shape dough into roughly ¾” cookie cubes by hand, placing them on the parchment lined baking sheet as you go.
Once all cookies are shaped (you should have about 60 if they are the same size as mine), place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 15 minutes or fridge for an hour (this is optional but will help them hold their shape). While dough chills, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the tops look dry (i.e., no longer wet dough), and the undersides and bottom edges are golden brown. Remove from oven, let sit on cookie sheet until cool enough to handle, then transfer to a cooking rack set over a platter, cookie sheet, large piece of parchment or wax paper. Let cookies cool completely before glazing.
FOR THE SWEET SAZERAC GLAZE:
- 1 medium to large lemon
- 1.5 cups powdered sugar, firmly packed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon absinthe, preferably St. George Spirits
- 1 tablespoon rye whiskey
- 1/8 teaspoon aromatic bitters, such as Peychaud’s
Using a citrus zester (preferably this type), zest the peel of the lemon to create 60 tiny spiraled ribbons of peel. Set spirals aside. Sift the powdered sugar and salt into a small to medium bowl. Add the egg white and whisk (texture will seem dry and lumpy). Add the absinthe and whisk well, then the whiskey and whisk well again. Finally, add the bit of bitters and whisk until no traces of pink and no lumps remain. Glaze should be smooth and opaque. If it seems too thin (i.e., runny or transparent), whisk in more sugar.
Using a generous spoonful of glaze, cover each cooled cookie with icing, completely covering the top and letting icing run down the sides. After every 5-10 cookies (while glaze is still wet), stop to place a lemon zest spiral on the top of each. When you run out of glaze, carefully scrape up the icing that’s collected underneath the cooling rack, transferring it into the icing bowl. Re-whisk icing and continue glazing cookies. Let glaze dry completely in the open air. Store cookies covered at room temperature.
With a soft, lemony center that’s speckled with fragrant anise, these decadent cookies are perfectly enrobed in their cocktail-rich glaze. The sazerac icing envelops each bite-sized treat with a crisp, sweet, subtly boozy shell — and the tiny twist of lemon is a charming echo of the drink’s traditional garnish. Herbal and citrusy, sazerac cookies can be a welcomed treat for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. They celebrate the spirits behind them, just as they usher in a spirit of celebration. Cheers!
Maybe next time… I’m certain that brown sugar, with its rich and moist molasses, would be a welcome substitute for the white sugar in the dough. Same with spices: anise is but one of many absinthe-y options. To amp up the subtle sazerac flavor of the icing, consider increasing the glaze recipe and dunking the whole cookie to coat it completely. A hint more boozy flavor can also be added by replacing the vanilla in the dough with absinthe and/or bourbon. Finally, feel free to play with the ratio of alcohols based on your taste preference; I’m thinking I’ll be trying a 100% absinthe glaze soon. (But don’t overdo the bitters: too much will taste — you guessed it — bitter!)