What do you make when you've just moved into a new place? Cookies, of course. What kind of cookies? Hold on, the better question is: What aroma do you want to fill the house with? Something spicy, I said. And earthy. Something that smells, no, feels like home. So on a particularly cold winter day, we fired up the oven for the first time and christened the house with the heady aroma of Chinese Five Spice.
As mentioned in the previous post, March is the month of the Asian Kitchen Project, in which I stock up my new kitchen pantry with key ingredients and tools that let me cook with a twist of Asian flavor no matter where I am in the world. In the last post I wrote about dried jujubes as an ingredient my kitchen can't do without, and today's essential ingredient is the unique Chinese blend of spices known as Five Spice.
Despite its name, the blend is not always limited to five spices and counts star anise, fennel, cloves, cinnamon and Szechuan pepper as the usual contributors of its flavor profile with some recipes also including ground ginger, cumin and liquorice. In Chinese cooking, five spice powder is commonly used in meat marinades and to enhance stir-fries. At this point you may ask, What does Five Spice taste like? Let's see if we can sum it up in five words: It is pungent, warm, sweet, bitter, salty. It is, "Hello, I'm here!" Does that make sense?
Now, these cookies are crispy on the outside, especially around the edges, and chewy on the inside. They are spicy, rich, deep, scrumptious and comforting with a glass of milk. The Chinese word I would use to describe them is "Xiang", meaning fragrant. I like this word because it employs the olfactory sense to describe taste.
I'm glad to say that this cookie recipe is simple, requiring less than 10 ingredients and no more than 15 minutes in the oven. The aromatic flavor of these cookies without a doubt comes from the five spice, but other ingredients like whole spelt flour, coconut oil, coconut sugar and blackstrap molasses play a significant role too. I also made a gluten-free version by substituting spelt flour with buckwheat flour, which to me has nice nutty tones and an even deeper flavor.
Compared to spelt, cookies made with buckwheat flour are soft, sandy and have an elegant melt-in-the-mouth quality. Both flours, in my opinion, are great vessels to deliver the wonderful flavors of blackstrap molasses and five spice combined.
Don't forget to come back next Wednesday to read about another essential ingredient in my pantry as part of the Asian Kitchen Project series! In case you missed it, click here to read the previous post on dried jujubes.
Vegan Five Spice Molasses Cookies
The powerful Chinese Five Spice blend comes together with blackstrap molasses to give these cookies a unique taste and a chewy texture. I like the depth of flavor whole spelt flour gives to these cookies, but whole wheat flour will also work. To make them gluten-free, use buckwheat flour instead. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
2 1/2 cups (150g) whole spelt flour
or (175g) buckwheat flour to make them gluten-free
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons five spice powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup unsulfured blackstrap molasses
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
You will need two large bowls, one to mix the dry ingredients in and the other for the wet ingredients, which need to be thoroughly whisked to combine. Then pour the dry mix into the wet mix and stir until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. A spatula is helpful for this action, but you should not be afraid to use at least one hand to knead the dough for a better and faster outcome.
For a more uniform cookie size, use a measuring tablespoon to scoop out pieces of the dough, then fashion them into discs with your hands and arrange them, well apart, on the baking sheets. Press the back of a fork onto the cookies to create a pattern.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden. While you wait, enjoy the sweet-spicy aroma wafting out of the oven. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.