When I brought my holiday cookies to work, my friend Laura said that one of my creations reminded her of a spice that her grandmother used in many of her baked goods. The spice is mahlab, an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry, which has been used for centuries in the Middle East. Mahlab has a tart cherry taste with overtones of lemon. I sourced the mahlab at a NYC spice store in Little India and added them to my shortbread cookies with great results.
Mahlab Shortbread Cookies
Makes 18 to 24 sandwich cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon finely ground mahlab
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
In a medium bowl, sift together flour and mahlab. Whisk in sugar. Cut in butter until it resembles flakes. Knead with hands until gathered together, smooth, and pliable. Shape dough into disk, and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Chill for 1 to 2 hours, or overnight, until firm.
Preheat oven to 350oF. Line cookie sheets with parchment.
Roll dough, between sheets of wax paper, to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with 1-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, dipping cookie cutter in all-purpose flour to aid cutting. Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle half of the cookies with chocolate jimmies. Leave the other half plan. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer cookies, still on parchment, to wire racks to cool completely.