O Come All Ye Basil

Citrus-Basil Pinwheels

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Basil?  In a cookie??  Why not?!  After all, Colorado’s all about herb these days, maybe we should all hop on board.
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‘Floral Week’ on the most recent season of The Great British Bake Off really got me thinking.  Though I’m certainly not a cookie traditionalist by any means [browse my <Recipes> tab for details], I tend to stay in my cookie safe-space, experimenting mostly with familiar flavors – vanilla, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, salt, etc.  I use lots of fresh and dried herbs in my cooking, but I have yet to really get my feet wet incorporating herbs into dessert foods.  So, here went nothing!

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Orange-Poppyseed Dough
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Lime-Basil Dough
Tom’s mom generously stocked me with a healthy supply of dried whole basil leaves from her summer garden.  I’ve mostly been using the basil in soups, stews, and bean salads, but I decided that having all of this beautiful basil at my disposal was the perfect opportunity to get my GBBO on and make some cookies with it!

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Basil has a complex flavor that is at some times sweet, others peppery, and others lemony, all depending on the surrounding accouterments — just like how that chunky sweater you stole from your mom’s 80’s wardrobe looks super frumpy when worn with a matronly pair of relaxed-fit corduroys, yet looks hip and fresh when paired with black leggings.  I figured I’d try to emphasize the sweet and lemony flavors of the basil pairing it with a delicate sweet butter cookie dough spiked with lime zest and fresh lime juice (no relaxed-fit cords with this basil!).  Since it’s Christmastime, and I pride myself in making cookies that are delicious to eat and pretty to look at, I wanted to make a complimentary dough to spiral with the lime-basil dough.  Sticking with the citrus theme, orange-poppyseed sprung to mind like Santa up a chimney.
Side note:  I usually try to avoid using artificial coloring in my baking, but, around the holidays, I do relax this rule to make my cookies look extra festive.  I used only a small amount of gel food coloring to lightly tint the dough green to really spotlight the spiral of the two doughs.
These cookies don’t hit you over the head with herbacious overtones — which is good because nobody wants a concussion for Christmas — but the subtle flavor of the basil is definitely present, highlighting the citrus notes and tickling your tastebuds.  After all, too much basil would not be a good thing – think marinara sauce cookies…yeah, I just threw up in my mouth too!

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Citrus-Basil Pinwheels

Orange-Poppyseed Dough:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp
 1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus a bit more for rolling dough
1 egg yolk, room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of an orange
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a bit more for rolling dough
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
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Lime-Basil Dough:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp
 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk, room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 2 limes
2 whole dried basil leaves, finely torn (use fresh basil if you have it!)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, set lime halves aside for use during assembly
Small squirt of green gel food coloring
Dash of almond milk, only if your dough is too dry
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Decorations:
Melted white chocolate
Green decorating sugar
First, make the Orange-Poppyseed dough.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the softened butter and the powdered sugar, until pale and fluffy, ~2 minutes.  Beat in egg yolk, vanilla extract, and orange zest.  Combine flour and salt in a measuring cup, then, with mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients, mixing only until JUST incorporated.  Turn mixer to medium, and beat in orange juice for ~30 seconds, and assess dough — should be moist but not sticky (see picture above).  Beat in poppy seeds until evenly dispersed.
Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on your countertop, and sift a very fine layer of flour over the plastic wrap (if your dough looks sticky, sift a little extra flour).  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough out onto the floured plastic wrap.  Sift a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar over the top of the dough, and spread the sugar around with your palm to cover the surface completely.  Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large rectangle (the more rectangular the better, but nobody’s perfect, so just aim for an elongated quasi-quadrilateral), approximately 15″ x 9″, and brush away any excess sugar.  Transfer to freezer to chill while you make the Lime-Basil dough (at least 10 minutes) – I normally slide the rolled dough, on its plastic wrap base, onto a cookie sheet for easy transfer.
In a clean stand mixer bowl, cream together the softened butter and the powdered sugar, until pale and fluffy, ~2 minutes.  Beat in egg yolk, vanilla extract, lime zest, and basil.  Combine flour and salt in a measuring cup, then, with mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients, mixing only until JUST incorporated.  Turn mixer to medium, and beat in lime juice and food coloring for ~30 seconds, and assess dough — should be moister than the Orange-Poppyseed dough (you want a more spreadable consistency than the Orange-Poppyseed).  If your dough is too dry, add a small splash of milk.
Remove the chilled Orange-Poppyseed dough from the refrigerator, and scrape the Lime-Basil dough onto the middle of the rolled rectangle.  Sift a small amount of powdered sugar over the Lime-Basil dough to allow you to spread the dough with your fingertips without it sticking, permitting you to easily smear the Lime-Basil dough over the Orange-Poppyseed dough, leaving ~1″ border.  Do not apply excessive pressure to the Lime-Basil dough, since you do not want to thin the Orange-Poppyseed layer underneath.  Use a rolling pin to do a quick pass over the Lime-Basil dough, leveling the surface and reducing the Orange-Poppyseed border to ~1/2″.  Use your reserved lime halves to dampen your fingertips, and run your moistened fingers over the entire surface (including the Orange-Poppyseed border) to make it sticky.  Then, starting with the long edge of the rectangle that is closest to you (and using the plastic wrap to help you lift the edge), begin to roll up the dough into a tight spiral, paying special attention to the first few rolls to ensure that the dough adheres to itself.  Once you have completed the spiral, re-dampen your fingertips with lime juice, and seal the seam along the length of the roll, manhandling the dough enough so that seam is no longer visible.  Pat the circular sides of the log to fill in any gaps.  Wrap the log tightly in the plastic wrap, then wrap it again in a layer of aluminum foil, twisting the ends (peppermint-candy-wrapper-style) to apply some inward pressure to the log.  Place in refrigerator to chill for 18-24 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees farenheit, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove log from fridge, and unwrap it on a cutting board.  Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to cut off both ends of the log (you can bake these as test cookies, but they’re typically kind of messy-looking if your rectangle wasn’t perfect).  Slice the log into ~3/8″ slices, rotating the log ~90 degrees with each slice so that you don’t flatten it into ovals with the repeated downward cutting pressure (ehh, good tip huh?!).  Place the cut rounds on lined baking sheets, ~1″ apart, and transfer to freezer for 10 minutes prior to baking.  Bake chilled cookies for 14-15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway — edges should just barely be thinking about turning light brown.  Remove from oven, and let sit on hot sheets for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks for complete cooling.
Once cookies have cooled, melt some white chocolate in a double boiler (or the microwave if you’re a fast decorator).  Place a large sheet of wax paper underneath a wire cooling rack to facilitate clean-up.  Dip cooled cookies halfway into the melted chocolate, allow excess to drizzle back into the bowl, and place on the cooling rack.  Sprinkle with colored sugar, and allow chocolate to harden.  Once chocolate has set,  cookies may be stacked and stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days — they are actually fine at room temp, but I think that they taste better cold…your choice!

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