These have a wonderfully heady smell, and when you bite into them, the powdered sugar icing crackles and the poppy seeds crunch against the spicy cookie. They’re pretty intense. These cookies were my introduction to cardamom, and may have something to do with my total willingness to eat the cardamom pods one comes across in rice pilaf and certain curries. I can remember biting into a pod at Gulshan when I was 18, a restaurant just off Indian Restaurant Row in NYC that I went to as an NYU student, and being surprised by the sudden piney, resinous flavor – but I liked it, and there was something familiar about it. I figured it out not long afterwards.
These cookies continue to be a holiday tradition at my mom’s house. I make them as well, and they’re a great thing to contribute to a cookie swap, because they are unique and impressive. (The other thing I usually bring to a cookie swap is chocolate peanut butter bars, because seriously, after you make these, you should give yourself a break.)
The original recipe says to let the flavors mellow for three or four days before serving. I’ve yet to be able to manage that. I’ve never found it to be a problem to enjoy these right away.
1/2 c. honey
2 T. firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 T. butter
1 1/2 t. ground cardamom
1 1/2 t. .ground cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
1 1/2 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 t. fresh grated lemon rind
1 t. fresh grated orange rind
2 3/4 c. sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 T. cream or milk
2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. water
Preheat oven to 350. Heat the honey in the microwave using a glass measuring cup, then stir in the sugars, butter, egg, spices, and grated rinds.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the honey mixture alternately with the cream or milk, stirring with a wooden spoon until blended. Turn the dough out onto a floured board or pastry cloth. Knead the dough, adding flour to the board as often as necessary to prevent sticking, for 5 or 6 minutes, until the dough is easy to handle and not at all sticky. It should be firm enough to hold the impression of your finger. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into four equal parts. Make mushroom “stems” from one-quarter of the dough by shaping into four rolls, each about 12 inches long and about 3/8 inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Shape one end of each piece into a point with your fingers. Place the stems on their sides 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 7 minutes until firm. Cool on wire racks.
Make “caps” by shaping remaining dough into 3/4-inch balls. Hold a ball in the palm of your hand and make an indentation about 1/2 inch deep in each with the handle of a wooden spoon, twisting it in and out. This is where the stem will later be inserted. Place the caps, indented side down, on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for about 12 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom. Cool on wire racks.
Press the powdered sugar through a coarse kitchen strainer to remove any lumps. Blend it with 1 T. of the water until smooth. Add the remaining 2 T. water, 1 t. at a time, beating well after each addition.
Enlarge indentations in caps if necessary with a small pointed knife. Dip one end of each stem in frosting and insert in caps. Dry the cookies, cap side down. Dip the top of each cap in frosting, allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl. While still wet, sprinkle the frosted caps with poppy seeds.
Place the cookies, stems down, into a cooling rack where they may dry undisturbed for several hours or overnight. Pack in airtight containers and allow the flavor to mellow for three or four days before serving.
Makes about four dozen cookies.