sichuan pepper walnut cookies (savory)

A couple of years ago, my mom and sister went to Sichuan to visit a bear sanctuary. They came back with these incredible Sichuan pepper-flavored walnut cookies (核桃酥) from the Hyatt. For the uninitiated, Sichuan pepper is not about the taste (slightly citrus-y), but rather the awesome tingling/numbing sensation it sparks in your mouth. The cookies had it in spades.

I’m so happy with my paleo version! If I may be so bold, these cookies are even better than the ones that inspired them. They are buttery, crumbly and so flavorful!

Sichuan Pepper Walnut Cookies (Savory)
By: Mia Cee || Resting Hungry Face
Makes 16 cookies

1/4 cup ghee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons honey

2 cups walnuts (about 100 grams)
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
dash salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees or 325 on convection.
2. Mix together the ghee, vanilla extract and honey. Set aside.
3. Put the walnuts in a food processor and pulse a bit at a time until the walnuts are in tiny crumbs. Be sure to stop before they start feeling oily and worse, turn into nut butter (I know, this is useless advice because if they feel oily it’s already too late). Transfer to a bowl.
4. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry pan or on a toaster tray for 90 seconds. They should be smoking slightly after 90 seconds. Remove immediately if they start burning.
5. Add the coconut flour, salt, baking soda and five-spice powder to the walnuts and mix until uniform.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Using a spice grinder, grind the Sichuan peppercorns over the bowl (or grind to powder with a mortar and pestle or food processor and add). Mix everything just until uniform. Put the bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes.
7a. For cookie balls/tea cakes/butterballs, roll the dough into 1-inch balls (the dough will be a little hard to handle but should still be malleable enough to shape). Set on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes and cool for 5 minutes before moving them from the tray.
7b. For “cookie cookies,” roll the dough into 1-inch balls and flatten slightly between your palms. Set on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Top each cookie with a walnut piece if desired and put the tray in the freezer for another 5 minutes. Bake for 6-7 minutes. Stick in the fridge for 10 minutes to cool.

Notes
** If you absolutely can’t find whole Sichuan peppercorns, you can substitute 2 tablespoons ground.
** The more you handle the dough, the softer it becomes. The softer it becomes, the more the cookies will spread. If you’re making cookie cookies, work as quickly as possible when rolling the dough.
** The cookie balls won’t spread too much but the cookies will, so you’ll want to space them out on your tray.
** It took me three tries to perfect this recipe and what really elevates these cookies from good to great is the quality of your Sichuan peppercorns. If you can’t taste the Sichuan peppercorns, you just have a good but basic walnut cookie. Toasting and grinding the peppercorns brings out the flavor and tingling/numbing factor, but you have to start with good peppercorns.
** America’s Test Kitchen tested several brands of Sichuan peppercorns and gave Dean and Deluca (“really pleasant tingle”), Savory Spice Shop (“pleasantly strong tingling sensation”), and Joyce Chen (“‘very pronounced’ tingling sensation”) the highest marks on this front.

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