Orange and Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies


At 4 days before the big event I’m finally starting to get my Christmas on.  The tree is up, the holiday spirits are infused, and the shopping is….started.  Hey, there are days when “30% completion” still feels like a victory.  The seasonal stressors are starting to get to me.  I came trundling up the stairs today like a shepherd with my three bags full, tripped halfway on a stair that I swear wasn’t supposed to be there (I am famous for falling up the stairs on a surprisingly regular basis), and spent the next half hour spitting out tufts of dirty cat hair and nursing a knee which now looks like plum pudding. It was a rather painful reminder that in addition to holiday shopping and holiday baking, it might not be a bad idea to do some holiday cleaning. At some point.  By someone, preferably someone who isn’t me.  New gift request: a self cleaning house.  If it comes with a closet full of self-washing clothes that would be okay too.

I imagine that most of you are probably now at the point where the tree is trimmed, the gifts are wrapped, and you’re casually sipping on mulled cider whilst flipping through the Food & Wine holiday edition.  But if there are others out there who are like me, flying by the seat of their pants this year and imagining that mumbling “There’s still time, there’s still time…” will somehow stretch out the couple of days we have left, if nothing else I can help with the last minute holiday baking.  These next few posts will be for crazy-eyed people who are as disorganized as we are and have not yet fulfilled their quota of holiday baking….the week before Christmas.

Many moons ago I had stumbled across a recipe for cornmeal cookies.  Maybe they were in Martha Stewart Living or Gourmet magazine?  Or Food & Wine.  Possibly Food & Drink.  It’s hard to say, really, although the original magazine is likely trapped under a heap of others in the bathroom (where I do all my quality reading).  I wish I could tell you what was in them, other than the fact that they just looked darn good, but I do remember thinking that they reminded me of a thin butter cookie when I read the recipe.  Not that it matters, really, since the chances that I would have followed the recipe are slim to nil, but at least it gave me a good guideline of what I wanted to make:  Cornmeal cookies.  Specifically, crispy and buttery holiday season Orange and Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies.

For someone who considers Sour Patch Kids to be a food group, it’s surprising that I don’t like sweeter desserts.  For these cookies, as with most of the sweet treats that we pump out, I opted for a dough that was sweet without being cloying.  The cornmeal adds a subtle crunch to these crispy cookies, and the aromatic flavors of orange and rosemary peek through the buttery bliss.  These are a great cookie to make for long and lazy afternoons when you catch up with your girlfriends and a pot of strong tea, but they’re equally at home on the sweets table after Christmas dinner….or after Christmas breakfast, because cookies like this are just an invitation for me to eat even more.

Orange and Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies

Makes appx 4 dozen

  • 1.5 cups softened unsalted butter (3 sticks)
  • 1.5 cups icing sugar *
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 2.5 tablespoons orange zest (from 1 – 1.5 oranges, depending on size)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

* Icing sugar is sometimes sold as powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar.  What this means is that the sugar crystals are finely ground and then an anti-caking agent is usually added.  Most icing sugar contains varying amounts of cornstarch, which is fortuitous because it means that you’ll have a more finely textured cookie without the granularity of table sugar.  If you wanted to substitute superfine sugar instead of icing sugar you would use slightly less and increase the cornstarch to 3 tablespoons total.  If all that you have is good ol’ table sugar, that’s okay too – but you might want to use an electric beater when you cream the sugar and butter together to try to soften the crystal’s rough edges.

Cream together the icing sugar with the softened butter until it’s smooth and fluffy.

Add the orange zest, rosemary, and 2 tablespoons of cornmeal to the butter and work it in.  Sift the flour, salt and cornstarch into the butter.

Turn and stir the flour into the butter, using a relatively light hand.  I sometimes feel that it’s easier to rub the butter gently into the flour using light pressure from my fingertips rather than a spoon, but the choice is yours.  What you don’t want to do is work the flour in too aggressively or the cookies will be tough.  When the dough is crumbly but the flour has been worked in you can stop.

Divide the dough in half by weight (yes, I am the nerd who brought out a kitchen scale to do this instead of just eyeballing like a normal person) and spoon each half into a large plastic freezer bag.

This is Dorie Greenspan‘s fabulous technique for getting a perfectly formed and firm edged cookie for anyone who isn’t exactly a whiz with a rolling pin.  When you roll out your pastry does it tend to look less like a ball and more like a boot?  Try this, and you’ll be happy that you did.  It’s not exactly the most environmentally conscious approach to baking since the bags can’t be reused, but sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice sustainability in honor of aesthetics. And hey, when you’re feeling the holiday crunch and every minute matters, you do what you have to do.

Zip the freezer bag about half closed, starting at the ends and moving towards the center, but be sure not to fully seal the bag. You want the air to get pressed out as you roll the dough.

Roll the dough out to an even thickness, making sure that you have filled the corners as well.  The square of cookie dough should be about 1/8″ thick, and really do try to make sure there are no thicker or lumpy areas.

Lay the dough flat in your freezer to chill and firm up for 15-30 minutes.  Although I’m not a snow-bunny by any stretch of the imagination, and I rather tend to think of winter as the price we Canadians have to pay for living in a country that has accessible health care and social programs, around this time of year I start to see the benefits of a big chill.  The two flats of pastry were casually tossed onto my frozen back deck, just to the side of the “outdoor beer cooler” (aka, the snowbank).

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

Cover your work surface with 2/3 of the cornmeal (don’t worry, you won’t use it all up and have nothing left for the second batch).  Cut the plastic bag away from the firm dough and lay it flat on the cornmeal, pressing down firmly so that the grit will adhere.  If the cookies are slightly softened you will get more of the cornmeal to stick, but the other side of that coin is that your cookies will also stick to the table.  Make sure that the dough is well chilled but not frozen, press firmly before you lift each cookie up, and if you notice a bald patch on the bottom of your cookie you can always press it down into the cornmeal again.

Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to slice the dough into 5 equal strips, and then cut each one across to make squares that are about 2×2″.   Pierce each cookie 2-3 times with the tines of a fork.

Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and spread the cookies out evenly between the trays.  You want to leave about 1″ between each cookie because they will spread as they bake.  Work quickly because you want the cookies to stay cold and almost frozen.  If the dough starts to get a bit squishy simply tuck them back in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.

If you wanted to prep these cookies in advance you can leave the flattened bags of dough in the freezer, tightly sealed, for 3-4 months.  You can also freeze them when they’re cut and cornmeal crumbed, making sure to keep them in a single layer with parchment in between the squares.  The cookies cook best from frozen or well chilled.

Sprinkle the remaining cornmeal on top of your rather messy work area and repeat the pressing and cutting process with the second sheet of dough.

Bake the cookies in the center of your warm oven for 20-23 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  The cookies are done when there is just a slight golden tinge around the edges – don’t wait for them to brown!

Carefully transfer the cookies to a rack for cooling.  They might seem fragile now, but they will crisp up significantly as they cool.

Crispy and buttery, the cornmeal adds a delightful crunch to what are otherwise simple butter cookies.  What elegant little beasts, with their neat and trimmed edges!  I’m still feeling some residual guilt about the random waste of plastic bags.  Mind you, I’m also the kind of person who feels guilty when she “neglects” a shampoo that she bought but hated, and then spends the rest of the day sniffing her own hair with distaste.  So, there’s that, and the bags really do such a great job of keeping your cookies flat and even.

First it was the frosted coconut and lime cookies, now the more savory orange zest and rosemary.  I have three more recipes for holiday baking which need to filter down the pipeline in the next few days, so I’m thinking that the next write up should be rich chocolate ganache filled tartlettes.  Agreed?  Perfect, consider it done.


  • Alison

    These cookies look really amazing! So do the Coconut Lime ones! As soon as I finish my shopping, wrapping, cleaning and laundry – I too might try to make some! Cheers for Christmas!

  • Jacquie

    Ha ha ha! Here’s a story to make you feel better about yourself. I haven’t done anything for Christmas yet! Seriously, nothing. I have spent exactly 1 day baking of the last 30 days. My tree is up but undecorated (it taunts me with the 1 sad candy cane that I refuse eat dangling from a branch). My house is full of piles of old luggage, coats, and boots from cleaning out the garage, because I am the only person who cleans a garage by moving the stuff into her living space.

    My husband is passive-aggressively eating the bag of special chocolate chips that I bought to bake something as a punishment for not baking. Bah. Humbug.

    (I love your above cookies, they are so pretty and perfectly square.) I really hope to get around to making a gingerbread with lime glaze cookie at some point. Maybe Valentine’s day.

  • Tina

    Alison – by the time that I finish my shopping, wrapping, cleaning and laundry……well, actually I don’t think I ever will, so I have decided to scratch the last two off my list. Sure, I might come to Christmas dinner in a dirty blouse, but at least I come bearing COOKIES!! If you do want to try one of these cookies, I suggest this one. The coconut lime cookies are a bit fussy to work with whereas these come together in a SNAP with seriously little effort. I also think that this is your kind of taste (not too sweet, a bit savory) but maybe I’m projecting!!

    Jacquie – THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. Whenever life passes you a stressful situation or you’re just too disorganized to know up from down, it always helps to know that there’s a kindred spirit out there who’s going through exactly the same thing!!! By the way, you know who else cleans their garage by taking everything inside? I do. And then Mike surreptitiously hides all the boxes in the crawl space. Months later I find them in the crawl space, drag them out, and put them in the garage. No joke. It’s like a constant fight that neither one of us wants to admit to.

  • Jacquie

    Tina, that is hilarious! With us it’s the fact that he piles stuff around him while working, complains until I clean it up, then calls me at work because he can’t find anything because I “moved” it.

    Feeling a bit better today because last night I moved the mountain of hunting deer/backpacks into a more orderly pile in a closet.

  • deb

    OMG, these are delicious cookies! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. I almost passed, because it’s a little more fiddly than my usual mix, drop, bake and eat cookie baking. So not a fan of a rolling pin. But I stuck with it and I’m so glad I did. Love the rosemary/orange mix, love the texture, love the aroma that filled the kitchen. I think I’m going to try a batch with chopped jalapeno and lime zest. I’m convinced jalapenos are the next cookie craze! Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy!

  • Alison

    Ok – I have my first batch on their second 11 minutes in the oven. I was panicking making these! “You need to work fast” kept running through my head – go Alison, GO! Don’t let the cookies get soft! Oh god! Is that enough cornmeal? I’ll mush some more on…..oh crap! I crack one….I’ll just stuff it together and keep going on. The kitchen smells fantastic, though! I have my second bag in the fridge ready to go when these are out and off the pans. Seriously, though! I used XL freezer bags, so they might be a bit thinner than yours, and the bottom rack browned a bit, so I think I need to move it up before the second batch. All that said – I am very excited about them! I already made my molasses crinkles, and these, and then one more thing today plus some pear bread to bring over to my parents place tonight. I hope you’re home and baking and wrapping and enjoying! Can’t wait to talk. Early Merry Christmas!!

  • Lorraine

    All the cookies on your dessert tray were delicious, but these are my favourites! Light and tasty, great with tea. Wonderful way to use some of the rosemary.

  • Tina

    Deb – We’re so glad that you enjoyed this recipe!!! That’s great news! I get frustrated with pastry sometimes as well, particularly if it’s finicky (you might not enjoy making the coconut lime cookies….), but isn’t it so much easier when you can do it in a baggie? I just love that technique. Ooh, I love the thought of using jalapenos in cookies….if you try, let us know how it goes! It sounds like a great flavor that I’d be all over. Thanks again for checking out our site, and we’re so glad that you enjoyed!!

    Alison – Jeepers, you make me giggle. I’m so glad that you tried these. Did you like the flavor? What did you think? The molasses crinkles sound delightful (I’m a sucker for molasses anything) and pear bread…yum! Hope that you and your family had a very merry Christmas!!!

    Lorraine – I’m so glad that you enjoyed them! Good thing, because you’re getting another load when we see you tonight……

  • Katie

    Made these for Christmas – they were delicious! And they were really pretty too. The hardest thing about baking, for me, is getting things to look nice – but the ziploc bag trick was wonderful. Got some pics up on my blog.

  • Tina

    Katie – I saw your pictures of these cookies and they looked delightful!! I’m so glad that you enjoyed them, and how chuffed am I that you made so many of our recipes for Christmas? I’ll answer that – VERY! I was so excited to see that, thank you!! The plastic bag trick always makes my inner environmentalist feel guilty, but it’s certainly a remarkable tool. That Dorie Greenspan knows what she’s doing!