I live in a city full of delicious Indian restaurants, and my addiction to fresh naan and rich curries is real. One of my favorite common ingredients is paneer: a pressed, mild cheese that never really melts – it just softens, gets toasty, and soaks up all the flavor that surrounds it. Paneer is barely salty (in fact, the kind I buy contains only milk and vinegar); it has a milky, faintly tangy quality that’s pleasant on its own but also is enticing as a blank culinary canvas.
I’ve long thought of paneer as a great dessert candidate, and its sweet possibilities still feel endless. This time, I found myself embracing (or rather clutching) the stone fruit of late summer, and I decided to pair the cheese with ripe, sweet peaches. Then I created a brown sugar cookie with the perfect sturdiness to act as a tiny, edible platter. Its dough would offer a whisper of a warm and refreshing spice: cardamom — another nod to Indian cuisine.
While delightfully creamy and tender, the paneer didn’t do much for the cookies when I added it plain – so I opted to imbue it with a complementary taste, soaking it beforehand in a sweet and salty bourbon marinade. As strange as it might sound, the boozy cheese bits gave the cookies a welcome warmth and a wonderful complexity of flavor and structure.
With a sweet and spicy base, tangy roasted peaches, and toasty, steeped cheese, these cookies are downright satisfying. The succulent baked fruit and crisp, buttery cookie offer a luscious array of texture alongside the slightly chewy toasted paneer. What’s more: their lovely layout is a kind of celebration signal — they look a bit like hors d’oeuvres to be served at a party, and certainly they should be!
Paneer Peach Cookies with Cardamom and Bourbon
[makes about 30 cookies]
For the paneer:
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt (omit if paneer is salted)
- 5 tablespoons bourbon
- 5 ounces paneer cheese, cut into 1 centimeter cubes
For the cookie dough:
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling & cutting
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
For the peaches:
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 ½ – 2 pounds (about 3-4) peaches, ripe but not too soft
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Marinate the paneer: In a small bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt (if using), and bourbon. Add the cubed paneer and toss. Cover and chill. Let marinate at least 6 hours ahead of baking, up to 24 hours. Occasionally uncover and stir.
Make the cookie dough: Beat butter and sugar until blended and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well, followed by the vanilla. Sift 2¼ cup flour along with the salt, baking powder, and cardamom into the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated and dough begins to stick together (it will look a bit crumbly at first). Gather dough with hands and knead for a few seconds if needed, then form into two equal balls. Wrap each one tightly with plastic wrap; this will prevent drying.
Prepare the peaches: Whisk the corn starch and brown sugar in a small bowl; set aside. Rinse, dry, and pit the peaches, then cut into ½” to ¾” cubes. Toss the peach pieces with the lemon juice, then add the corn starch mixture, stirring until just coated.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Strain the paneer and place cubes on a paper towel. (Discard boozy liquid or try using it in a creamy cocktail.)
Unwrap half of the cookie dough. On a flat, lightly floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a slab 1/8” to 1/6” thick. Use a floured 3” round cookie cutter to cut dough into circles, transferring each one to a lined cookie sheet, about ¾ inch apart from one another (they won’t spread much). Re-roll dough scraps and re-flour surface and tools as needed. Repeat with second half of dough.
Being careful to not transfer too much liquid to the cookies (a slotted spoon is great), top each cookie with about a rounded tablespoon of peaches followed by a rounded teaspoon of paneer cubes, centered. This is about 4-5 cubes of each: paneer and fruit. Discard leftover juice from peaches. Bake one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges of cookies are golden brown and paneer begins to look toasty.
Remove from oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes on cookie sheets. Enjoy while still warm, or at room temperature the same day they’re baked. (If you have leftover cookies at the end of the day, cover and refrigerate, eating within 24 hours. In the fridge, the baked paneer will become quite firm and the peaches will likely become brown, but the cookies will taste fine the next day.)
Maybe next time… If you like the idea of incorporating cheese into dessert, check this out. Feel free to make the cookie dough a day ahead of time, such as when you start marinating the paneer; keep it chilled, then let it warm to room temperature before rolling. Indian or Pakistani grocery stores carry paneer, as does my local Whole Foods. You can also make your own paneer if you’re feeling adventurous. But of course you don’t have to use paneer at all – you can skip the cheese all together, or swap in a mild crumbled goat milk or feta (no marinating necessary). In fact, the cookie dough alone is simply fantastic for baking flavorful cut-out cookies; it’s the perfect texture and really holds its shape. It also works for thumbprints stuffed with jam like apricot or raspberry — or better yet, peach!