January 14, 2012

Honey-wheat cookies

I'd never used wheat germ before until last week when I bought a bag to make those tasty (and healthy) blueberry-banana muffins.  I still have quite a bit left and as luck would have it, I was indulging in one of my favorite pastimes - reading a cookbook - when I found another recipe to deploy the wheat germ for.  I was reading through Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan and making a growing list of things I might like to make when I saw this recipe for honey-wheat cookies, which calls for lemon zest, honey, and wheat germ.  It sounded like something worth trying during this post-holiday January when you (by that, I mean me or I) still want a sweet treat but prefer to stay on the lighter, healthier side.
Like its name suggests, the flavor and texture of these cookies come from the combination of lemon zest, honey, and wheat germ.  To up the health factor a bit further, I substituted some of the all-purpose flour used in this recipe with white whole wheat flour.  There's wheat germ in the cookies themselves and they also get a coating of it on the outside before baking.  I really liked that, as it gave the cookies a bit more texture on the outside, similar to what you'd get if you rolled them in sugar and this is certainly a far healthier option.  These cookies just cry out for a cup of tea to go alongside.
When the cookies first came out of the oven, they were pretty nondescript and I worried about what the combination of wheat germ, honey, and lemon zest would taste like.  It was better than I thought it would be.  It's like biting into a soft cake - sweet, moist, and with a nice lemon perfume and flavor to it.
This cookie might lend more towards adult palates though.  Our six-year old was not into it.  Obviously, this is no chocolate cookie but it is a nice change up in the cookie rotation right now.

I made half a recipe and got about 16 cookies out of it (I think mine were a bit larger than intended).  I made a slight change to the recipe by substituting a portion of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour, which I like using because it's more subtle than regular whole wheat flour and just as good for you.

I started off by mixing half a cup of all-purpose flour, 6 tablespoons of white whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup of wheat germ, and 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt in a bowl (again, this is for half a recipe).
Next, grate a teaspoon or so of lemon zest (I would use more rather than less) directly over 1/4 cup of sugar that's been placed in the bowl of a mixer. 
Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist (this helps release the oils in the zest and maximize the flavor out of the lemon zest).  Add half a stick of unsalted, room temperature, butter.
The rest of the process is pretty standard.  Beat the butter and sugar together for a minute or so until it's creamy and smooth (scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl periodically as needed).  Beat in the honey, followed by the egg (actually half an egg in the case of half the recipe and I eyeballed it) until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Finally, mix in the dry ingredients in 2 portions, stopping when it is just combined.  If there's a little bit of flour mixture at the bottom, stir it in with a rubber spatula.
After all the mixing, the dough is quite soft and should be wrapped and chilled for 2 hours or up to 2 days if you like.  After that time, preheat the oven to 350 and roll the dough into about 1-inch balls.  Drop each dough ball in some wheat germ to coat all around.  After they've been rolled in the wheat germ, gently press the cookies down a little bit with the palm of your hand (or use the bottom of a glass).
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until the cookies are just firm to the touch. 
When they're done, the cookies have a very slightly rough, almost crispy texture on the outside thanks to the coating of wheat germ.  They're soft and moist in the center and it's like biting into a lemon and honey cake.  After all my hard work, I had a nice afternoon tea break with a couple of these cookies and a cup of hot lemon tea.  


Honey-Wheat Cookies
Adapted (slightly) from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

- Makes about 36 cookies -

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat germ, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1 large egg, at room temperature

Whisk the flours, 1/2 cup of the wheat germ, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.

Place sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add lemon zest and rub the zest into the sugar using your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.  Add butter and beat mixture together for about 2 minutes until creamy and smooth (scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed).  Add honey and beat for another minute or two.  Add the egg, beat for 2 more minutes, until the mixture is smooth, light, and fluffy.  On low speed, add the dry ingredients in 2 portions, mixing only until combined and the dry ingredients have been absorbed.  Turn dough out onto plastic wrap, wrap well, and chill for 2 hours or up to 2 days.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper and place a rack in the middle of the oven.

Place remaining 1/2 cup of wheat germ in a bowl.  Take chilled dough and roll into 1-inch balls with your hands.  Drop each dough ball into the wheat germ to coat, then place on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between them.  Use your palm or the bottom of a glass to flatten each cookie slightly (they do not spread much during baking).

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10-12 minutes, or until they are just firm to the touch.  Once out of the oven, transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. 

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