Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sarah Guare: Holy Basil Spice Butter Cookies

Holy basil relieves stress, pain, and that cookie craving.

Holy basil spice butter cookies go beautifully with afternoon tea. Photo by Sarah Guare
Holy basil is one of my favorite herbs. Though not very well known in the United States, it’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as a rasayana, or promoter of long life. In Herbal Goddess (forthcoming in Spring 2015), author Amy Jirsa explains that holy basil is an adaptogen, meaning that it protects the body from stress. She says the beauty of the herb is that it can soothe anxiety and the stress response without making you drowsy, but it will still leave you calm enough to sleep deeply. It’s also great for treating skin issues — mashed leaves, when applied as a poultice, will draw the pain away from burns, bites, and stings.

Holy basil is most often found as a tea (also labeled tulsi). I remember when I first tried tulsi tea: I was out Christmas shopping with a friend last year, and, tired and cranky, we tucked into a tea shop for a pick-me-up. I was pleasantly surprised to see tulsi on the menu; curious about its reputed effects, I wanted to try it for myself. After the first few sips of my tulsi chai, I really did feel less stressed. I had been feeling a little irritated and edgy, but while drinking the tulsi the tension simply evaporated. I now drink tulsi several times a week — not only because it makes me feel good, but also because I like the taste (spicy and strong, and delicious with milk and honey).

As it turns out, there are many more ways to enjoy holy basil than just in tea. You can grow your own plants and use the fresh leaves in stir-fries or cool and refreshing drinks, or combine the dried leaves with some other herbs and make a kidney healing compress. Last week, I decided to turn to dessert and made Amy’s Holy Basil Spice Butter Cookies.

Most any time you combine butter and sugar good things happen, but the holy basil makes these cookies unusual and addictive. Amy warns not to overmix the batter, and to me that’s the secret: the cookies turn out soft and light, with crispy edges. The holy basil is there, but the flavor isn’t overpowering. And because there isn’t a whole lot of butter, they have a lighter taste. I elected to use powdered ginger in mine, but I skipped the candied ginger.

Holy Basil Spice Butter Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

These cookies come from my grandmother’s recipe and are made for accompanying a warm cup of tea. Think a strong black tea such as Irish Breakfast or even a smoky one like Lapsang Souchong. 

2 cups organic, all-purpose flour (you may need a bit more if you’re using maple syrup)
½ teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground holy basil
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, or pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon chopped candied ginger (optional)
½ cup (1 stick) butter or vegan substitute, room temperature
¾ cup evaporated cane juice, honey, or maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg (or vegan substitute)
¼ cup milk (dairy or non-dairy, unsweetened)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, basil, and spices, and mix well.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sweetener. Add the vanilla and egg, and mix until combined. 
  4. Add half the dry mixture to the large bowl. The first rule I learned about butter cookies is not to overmix the batter (same thing with muffins, if you’re familiar with baking those), so stir gently. Add the milk, then add the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined and add more milk if needed. You want to be able to drop this batter from a spoon and have it hold together, not puddle or crumble all over your baking sheet.
  5. Drop rounded spoonfuls of batter onto cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. 
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then place cookies directly on the rack. Trust me — rushing this process leads to tasty, but crumbling cookies. These will keep for a couple of days at room temperature (though if my own experience is at all common, I doubt they’ll last that long).

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