Cardamom-Lemon Tea Cookies

Lemon zest and cardamom are a wonderful pairing in these light, airy cake-like tea cookies made with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses.

Lemon zest and cardamom are a wonderful pairing in these light, airy cake-like tea cookies made with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses.

I am not a baker.  Im not great at following recipes and truth be told, I tend to cook using my senses.  I'm drawn to ingredients that are bright and colorful.  I use my bare hands to mix and measure and feel the texture of what Im cooking.  I listen for the sounds of sizzling oil and crackling spices. I take in the aromas and taste and adjust throughout the cooking process.  When I cook by feel Im often left with unexpected surprises new flavors that linger on my tongue and make me shake my head in wonder about how combining certain things can result in something so divine. 

But baking is an exact science.  It requires precise measurements and specific amounts of heat.  With baking, timing is everything.  Perhaps its for these reasons that I tend to shy away from baking, which I have generally found to be challenging in its exactness.  But this year I was invited to my first holiday cookie exchange and decided this was as good a time as any to throw my hat back into the baking ring.

Because Im trying to find ways to preserve food culture and tradition, I love using traditional eastern spices like cardamom for traditional western foods in this case, holiday cookies.  I had also recently read a recipe for an Italian cookie made of ricotta that sounded light and airy, so that was part of the inspiration for incorporating ricotta into the recipe.  I decided to use lemon to balance out the spice of from the cardamom and mascarpone for a little added richness. The result was a beautiful white cookie, with a cake-like consistency and a slight hint of cardamom with the sweet tanginess from the lemon zest and the sugar.  Some finely chopped pistachios would also be lovely in these cookies

A quick note here - cardamom is a fairly aromatic spice and can quickly become overpowering. I recommend adding about half of what is noted below and adding a little more at a time until you have the desired cardamom flavor. 

Ingredients

·       2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

·       1 teaspoon baking powder

·       1 teaspoon salt

·       1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom (8 cardamom pods will give you about this amount of powder)

·       1 stick unsalted butter (softened)

·       2 cups sugar

·       2 eggs (egg replacer can be substituted)

·       8 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese

·       4 ounces mascarpone cheese

·       Juice and zest from 1 lemon

·       Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

If using whole cardamom pods, shell the pods and using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind the seeds into a fine powder. 

Add a dash of the ground cardamom powder to the powdered sugar to be used for dusting.  Mix and and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and the remaining cardamom powder. Mix and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs or egg replacer, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Beat to combine for another two minutes.  Make sure to check the beaters for any remaining lemon zest.  Stir in the dry ingredients using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Mix just until blended.

The dough will be sticky, so I suggest using an ice cream scoop with a lever to spoon the dough (about 1-1 ½ tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets.  If you dont have this type of an ice cream scoop, 2 spoons should work fine.  I initially tried to roll the scoops in my palms so they would be smooth, but leaving them with peaks actually looked better once they were baked (plus it was just a lot easier to manage!).  Leave about 2 inches between the cookies as they may spread while baking.  Depending on the size of your cookie sheets, you may have to do this in multiple batches.

Bake in batches for 15-17 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. The cookies will remain white on top unless you put them under the broiler for 20 - 30 seconds to give them some color on top. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on a cooling rack for 20 minutes or until cool.

Once cool, use a fine meshed tea strainer to lightly dust the cookies with the powdered sugar and cardamom mixture. 

Store in an air tight container for up to one week.