Crisp Hazelnut and Pepper Cookies Recipe

Sablés Croquants Poivre et Noisette

If you’re the observant type, you may have noticed the walk-on actor in the fig sorbet picture two weeks ago. And you know what happens to walk-ons when they’re talented and good-lookin’ and lucky: they graduate to leading roles. Today is the cookie’s big break; today, the cookie gets to be the hero of the post.

The recipe comes from Laurence Salomon’s cookbook, Fondre de plaisir*, which I purchased after reading about it on so many French food blogs that it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Who is Laurence Salomon?” you may ask — and a valid question it is. She’s the chef of Nature & Saveur (need I translate?), a restaurant in the town of Annecy. She trained as a naturopath before she became a chef, and her cuisine, which I hear is outstanding, focuses on whole ingredients, health, and balance.

I was 100% sold on the idea, but I can’t say the book had me jumping up and down with excitement, or feverishly earmarking recipes. Don’t get me wrong: it is a good book, full of valuable tips and information, but it feels a little too ascetic for me, the voice of the nutritionist a little too present. I’m holding on to it because I feel it has things to teach me, but it’s not the sort of book that I crack open with a grumble in my stomach, rubbing my hands and thinking, “So! What’s for dinner tonight?”

Small wonder then, that the first recipe I try from it should be a cookie. The recipe can be found on page 156, where it features as a crumble-like topping over the Compotée pommes-abricots au yaourt de soja vanillé et coulis de noisette (stewed apples and apricots with vanilla soy yogurt and hazelnut coulis).

I might not have noticed the recipe at all if it weren’t for Claire, who had used it as a sorbet accessory last June. And I’m immensely grateful she did, because these are the best sablés I’ve made in a long time — my live-in taste-tester would tell you as much if he didn’t have his mouth full.

I modified the recipe a little bit (ahem) to use butter (instead of margarine), spelt instead of oats (it’s what I had on hand), pepper instead of cinnamon (cinnamon bores me, while a dash of pepper exalts the flavor of hazelnuts like no other), and rose water in place of plain water: the cookies were to be served with my fig sorbet, and rose and fig are notorious flavor pals.

And as a final bonus, let me share the following life-altering tip. Have you ever chopped hazelnuts with a knife? Is it not maddening how they go flying every which way, so that you end up with more hazelnuts lurking amongst your spice jars and rolling underfoot, than on your cutting board? Fret no more, for there is a better way: equip yourself with a sturdy food storage bag and a heavy-bottomed pan. Place the hazelnuts, whole, inside the storage bag. Zip the bag shut, place it on a cutting board, and bang on it with all your might. Feel better now?

* Fondre de plaisir translates roughly to “melting from pleasure”, which can be understood as shedding pounds while still eating well. It isn’t a diet book at all, but I’m guessing the publisher didn’t mind the ambiguity.

Biscuits Croquants Poivre et Noisette

– 100 grams (3/4 cup) whole hazelnuts
– 200 grams (1 2/3 cups) whole wheat flour (I used a mix of T65 and T110)
– 70 grams (2/3 cup) rolled spelt (or other old-fashioned rolled grains, such as oats)
– 120 grams (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) unrefined cane sugar
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– a good pinch salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (substitute 1/4 teaspoon curry powder or 1/2 teaspoon good cinnamon)
– 130 grams (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) butter, chilled and finely diced
– 2 tablespoons rose water, orange flower water, or just plain water, plus a little more as needed

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry skillet until fragrant. If the hazelnuts are still in their papery husks, you can remove some of it by rubbing them in a clean dishcloth while they’re still warm; you don’t have to, though. Let cool and chop roughly (see tip above).

Combine the hazelnuts with the rest of the dry ingredients, from flour to pepper, in a medium mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until blended.

Add the diced butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a wire pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the rose water and stir it in until the dough comes together just enough that you can gather it in two balls. If it’s not enough, add a little more rose water, little by little, until the dough reaches the desired consistency.

Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and set aside somewhere cool for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape the dough into balls a bit larger than walnuts, flatten them slightly, and place them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving them a little elbowroom to expand.

Bake for 25 minutes, until golden and set. Let stand for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transfering to a rack to cool completely.

Adapted from Laurence Salomon’s Fondre de plaisir.

  • They did sound fabulous in the fig post! Hazelnut and pepper – such a unique combination!

  • That’s the method I use for chopping hazelnuts too (any nuts, actually)! It works like a charm. These cookies sound delish!

  • Je ne demande pas qui est Laurence Salomon et je te pique un de tes jolis sablés.

  • Hmmmm, these sablés look so crisp and yummy. Je crois que je vais les faire bientot!

    – fanny

  • I’m using the method with a bag too, not just for nuts but also for some spices like cardamom, dried ginger, fresh lemon grass too, when I want just to lightly crash them.
    It is better than grinding them.
    I just put them in a bag and press lightly with pestle!

    I liked cookies. That is Oscar winning performance!

  • Bien contente d’avoir contribué au déclic ! Ton idée de mettre du poivre m’intrigue et m’interpelle. Il faudra que j’essaye !

  • Two great tips at once- bashing hazelnuts in a bag and a pepper and hazelnut affair. Thank you muchly!

  • You’ve definitely made the recipe more interesting – I really love the idea of adding pepper. Wouldn’t have thought of it!

    I’ve been cooking a lot with rosewater recently and these cookies are again very inspirational.
    Thank you!

  • Dav

    Très tentant cette recette!

  • gingerpale

    I’ve used black pepper in both spice cake and spice cookies. It works really well–people can’t figure out why they’re so good!

    To chop nuts? I hunch over real close to the counter and catch escapees with my elbows.

  • Lola

    Yum. I am very nervous to make these at home for fear of eating them all myself! I love pepper in gingersnaps too…

  • Lovely combination in the cookies…and the bag chopping-genius! Nothing like releasing a little aggression in the mid-afternoon. ;)
    thanks for the ideas!

  • I adore this kind of crisp little cookie; can’t wait to try the recipe.

  • Ces sablés sont super chouettes!

  • sophia

    the cookies look delicious. my boyfriend once crushed hazelnuts for a cake one by one with a garlic press.:-) i wasn’t home at the time

  • est

    bon défouloir la méthode casse-noisettes! merci!!

  • Maya

    I’ve never thought of using black pepper in sweets. This morning I added some to my oatmeal and it was a revelation! It’s really worth a try, especially with a little molasses and lightly toasted walnuts. How much fun — I’m so glad you turned me on to this new combination of flavors.

  • Hmmm. I wonder if the bashing in a ziplock bag would work with chocolate too-to make a block of chocolate into chocolate chips?
    Do many French people dislike cinnamon? My husband hates it but I still slip it into desserts with apples. I just think cooked apples need cinnamon.

  • I can’t wait to try black pepper with my cookies. Have you tried playing with the different varieties of cinnamon? I did a flavor analysis project on four types of cinnamon (China Tung Hing Cassia, Karintje Cassia, Vietnamese Cassia and Ceylon “True” cinnamon)for one of my classes and we found that the China Tung Hing has really strong black pepper and chicory notes. It’s definitely more of a savory than sweet cinnamon. I purchased the Tung Hing at the Spice House in Chicago, and they do ship if you’re not lucky enough to live in the flat middle of the US.

    Gingerpale–thanks for making me laugh at the imagery of hazelnuts and eyebrows! Hah!

  • Susan

    Your nut-chopping idea is life altering indeed! Just today I was looking at chopping jars for that very purpose and I am SO happy to avoid buying yet another kitchen gadget! Can’t wait to try the recipe.

  • I have to second Evelin, you made the recipe more delightful. I am a fan of sables. They could be a nice addition to my Christmas cookie kits.

  • I usually chop nuts by putting them in the tiny electrical choppers…but I like your method better. More rustic. :)

  • I use the same method.

  • Pepper and hazelnuts in a cookie..! I’ve never thought of it before and I’m still a bit skeptical but I trust you palate so may need to give this a try…

  • These look very tasty! Though I share your boredom with cinnamon, I’m thinking it might be OK here. Plus, the health police are now telling us that cinnamon is very very good for us and that we need to be practically inhaling it.

  • Alisa

    This is the first new recipe that I have printed out in a good long while! I love the use of black pepper in sweets (have you seen my choco pepper cookies?) I have been substituting cinnamon with cardamom for quite some time; going with a new alternative rocks! A frenchman that I know, says that there is a dictatorship of cinnamon in the US. Thanks for this!

  • This looks delicious!!!!

  • sarah

    i havent tryed the cookies but i was wondering if you could recomend a good chocolate muffin recipe as i thought i could cheer up my sister with them :) i couldnt find any in the chocolate and zucchini cook book

  • I lovemake strawberries macerated with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. The vinegar and the pepper really intensify the flavor beautifully.

    I was just looking at different recipes for sables and then saw your timely post. Can’t wait to try them!

  • Pepper cookies?!! Wow, I’ve got to try that. Not a big fan of hazelnuts, maybe I’ll try these with cashews instead?

  • i love the sound of this, and even more so, love imagining a couple of these with a strong pick-me-up afternoon cup of coffee.

  • k

    Clotilde: I loved the writing in this post. Your poetic yet funny sensibility is what keeps me reading C&Z. You manage a delicate balance between sensitive, rich, and even irreverant prose without being overwraught. The regular dose of great writing found here is one of my simple pleasures that makes me feel I’m not alone, and also provides a fresh perspective to view the world.

  • Hazelnut and pepper sounds like a great combination. I’ve got a whole lot of hazelnuts just waiting to be used.

    The nut chopping technique you talked about is the same one my mum taught me as a kid! Works great doesn’t it?

  • Scottie Miller

    May I second the post by k regarding your writing, Clotilde? Your unique style makes C & Z a delightful treat for foodies or non-foodies alike. It is quite refreshing especially when my schedule often requires that I must only enjoy the recipes vicariously. At least, if I don’t have time to follow through with the preparation, the details relayed so charmingly makes me smile. Please – write on!

  • Peppery cookies, good to spice up a cold day. Do you know this spice boutique called Goumanyat in the third? I just discovered it the other week, their spice racks are amazing.

  • marie

    Miam, miam, miam.. I loved these cookies, perfect with milk! I am planning to come to paris to live (for at this point an undetermined period of time!) next may, and have been hungrily devouring your blogs! merci!

  • Rachel

    Pepper in cookies makes perfect sense to me (I grew up in a city with good-sized German and Swedish communities, so pfeffernusse and peparkakor were part of my childhood), but I would never have thought of combining it with hazelnuts and rosewater. Can’t wait to try it!

  • Great! You have definitely made the recipe more interesting!

  • Haha! Love the tip about “chopping” hazlenuts. I’ve had the same problem when I tried to crush peppermints for a garnish to peppermint brownies. I ended up setting up cutting boards as a barrier to surround my chopping – LOL. Your method sounds a lot easier!

  • I’ve been chopping nuts like that for a while…and it is so un-messy!

  • Pâte à tarte, biscuits, j’adhère à toutes ses recettes…et aux tiennes aussi!Bonne soirée.

  • it never occured to me that a dash of pepper could exalt the flavor of hazelnuts…will try this, thanks clotilde

  • Dory

    I will definitely try these for the holidays. I, too, am bored with cinnamon. I don’t have anything against it. It is just overused. I often use allspice, which I risk getting myself bored with because I like it so much, in both sweet and savory food or cardamon instead. After living in Scandinavia for a time as a child, I have fond memories of cardamon scented baked goods. I particularly remember kardamoma boller, or cardamon buns– just slightly sweet, soft yeast buns with coarsely ground cardamon in them. Sometimes they were filled with vanilla cream and sometimes not. I still sometimes make these in winter to remind me of Scandinavian pastry shops.

    I also like that this blog is bilingual–at least sometimes. It is a nice touch. I love to read French and get too much English in my life, although my English is more literate than my French– hence my choice of language for the blog.

    And thank you Christy for reminding readers that there IS good food to be had here between the coasts. After all, the Whole Foods chain which has good and bad aspects but has definitely increased access to gourmet food in cities across the country originated in Austin, which is arguably BOTH the MIdwest and the South. The south Midwest? Oh, well, I am from the Great Lakes (which I refuse to refer to as the “third coast.” What do I know about TExas geography.

  • Beautiful – both the recipe and the advice for chopping nuts without adding nuts to the kitchen floor!
    Pepper is such a fabulous addition to cookies… Has anyone tried black pepper oatmeal cookies?
    – Astra Libris

  • Mary in MN

    Clotilde, would you use whole-wheat pastry flour or a mixture of whole wheat/white flour in this recipe, perhaps, if you were still baking in US?

    Je suis ravie de découvrir la VF de votre blog. Quant à “la chef” j’ai entendu Sarko dire “la ministre” à la télé la semaine dernière.

  • sarah

    I gave these a try today, but substituted some pistachios that I had lying around and pink peppercorns that I bought on a whim and have been dying to use. Delicious! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Lillian

    Oh man. I’m really crazy about hazelnuts, pepper, rose water, and cookies, (honestly, these are some of my very favorite things,) but I’ve never thought of combining the four. I’m so excited to try this.

  • Susan

    Oh, Clotilde, I just made these cookies– they’re cooling on my counter right now. I feel I deserve an enormous prize for not eating more of the dough itself– hazelnuts and butter! No better combination. I used orange flower water, and oats, which I happened to have on hand. I chopped the oats a bit.

    I’ve never commented before, but I must now say to you: your recipes have inspired me to cook more than any cookbook ever has. I’ve enjoyed so many things from your website, and I’m very grateful. I’m bringing some of the cookies (I made a double recipe so I could keep a few) and some of your beet carrot salad to a friend’s Thanksgiving feast here in San Francisco tomorrow! It seems the right time to express my thanks to you.

    • I’m delighted to hear it, Susan, thanks so much for writing! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • Loredana

    I’ve just finished making 4 dozen of these delicious little numbers; I made mine as well with the orange flower water and steel cut oats – i added 4 Tbsp of freshly ground cranberries as well — what a delight.
    The taste is so distinct. My son thinks I may have gone overboard on the pepper (I used freshly coarse ground black) but I really like the zip it gives. Thanks for a wonderful recipe and I was able to use up the rest of my hazelnuts, finally !!

    • I’m very happy you had good success with that recipe, Loredana, thanks for reporting back!

  • I just made these using plain H2O, oats, margarine, and pre-ground pepper. The result is a prime example for why good ingredients are the key to better results. While they taste OK, they’re overly healthy tasting and not at all like a traditional cookie. Next time I will follow your recipe more closely and hope for sweeter results.

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