Soft Spiced Honey Cookies

Last month, Marc was invited to a surprise October birthday pot-luck for two friends in Santa Cruz. Though the party had been planned awhile, somehow Marc hadn’t seen his email invite.  So getting ready to go was a last minute decision!

Marc couldn’t go without bringing a pot-luck dish. But…What to make? It needed to be easy, quick, transportable, and since one of the hosts has food restrictions, had to be a recipe that fit within those diet constraints. I suggested we could make a simple cookie recipe, which would be fun to do together and help ease Marc back into enjoying cooking again.

I’m a fairly expert cookie baker. Used to bake monthly as a volunteer for a community group. Have  my production techniques down pat, so I can bake – start to finish – 5 dozen cookies in about 2.5 hours (depending on how long the baking takes for each batch).

The Spice Cookbook, World of Spices map illustration
The Spice Cookbook, World of Spices map illustration

This recipe is adapted from The Spice Cookbook (1964) by Avanelle Day & Lillie Stuckey, now out-of-print. The front cover says “A Complete Book of Spice and Herb Cookery ~ Containing 1400 superb recipes for Traditional American and Classic International Cuisine.” That claim is a bit of a stretch, especially with today’s food blogging world of fabulous home cooks sharing AUTHENTIC international cuisine from around the globe! But given The Spice Cookbook was published almost half a century ago, the statement verges on quaint…and can be forgiven.

The Spice Cookbook (Avanelle Day & Lillie Stuckey) ~ Cookies chapter intro page
The Spice Cookbook (Avanelle Day & Lillie Stuckey) ~ Cookies chapter intro page

I bought my copy in 1968 as a high school senior and especially enjoyed cooking from it in my early 20’s. The recipes are good, though they need some adaptation for today’s tastes and my personal preferences of using organic, less refined ingredients. An especially delightful unique touch are all the charming illustrations by Jo Spier. (I’ll do a more in depth review of this cookbook in a future post.)

Soft Spiced Honey Cookies

* 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 2 tsps ground cinnamon
* 2 tsps ground ginger
* 1/2 tsp ground cloves

* 1 cup organic butter, softened
* 1-1/4 cups strained honey
* 1/4 cup organic sugar
* I/3 cup buttermilk (replaces 1 egg)

DIRECTIONS (Pre-heat oven to 350F)

1. MEASURE dry ingredients. Sift flour first, before measuring out 4 cups for the recipe.

I used to do my baking measuring casually by ‘eye-balling’ amounts and rarely sifting the flour first. With experience came to  understand measuring more carefully gives better, more consistent results as one can end up with 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour than the recipe needs by skipping this small step.

Marc & I had a humorous baking ‘debate’ over cup leveling techniques. I said using the flat surface of the knife was better than using the knife edge as he’s doing in these photos. He just rolled his eyes. Oh, well. So much for passing on “Motherly wisdom.”

Measure sifted flour carefully, level top with a knife
Measure sifted flour carefully, level top with a knife
Cookie baking Ingredients & Spices (measured not so carefully!)
Cookie baking Ingredients & Spices (measured not so carefully!)

After all that…Marc caught me “tapping” the cinnamon into the measuring spoon (reverting back to those old “eye-balling” techniques) since the spoon was too wide to fit into the jar. We both laughed.

Add measured spices to sifted flour 'til blended
Add measured spices to sifted flour ’til blended

2. SIFT dry ingredients together until well blended. Set aside for later use.

3. MELT butter over low heat in saucepan large enough for mixing cookie batter. Stir and watch carefully, so the butter doesn’t burn.

Melt Butter over low heat in a large pan (be careful not to let it burn!)
Melt Butter over low heat in a large pan (be careful not to let it burn!)
Baking with Honey Tip: Oil Measuring Cup before pouring Honey
Baking with Honey Tip: Oil Measuring Cup before pouring Honey

Baking with Honey TIP: It’s MUCH easier to measure & pour honey from a lightly oiled cup. A delicate vegetable or nut oil without a distinct flavor is best.

Baking with Honey Tips: A lightly oiled cup allows honey to not cling to surfaces
Baking with Honey Tip: A lightly oiled cup allows honey to not cling to surfaces
Pour Honey into Melted Butter
Pour Honey into Melted Butter

4. ADD honey & sugar. Stir to blend until sugar is dissolved.

5. COOL for 10-20 minutes in refrigerator until pan is just warm, not hot.

Add Sugar & Buttermilk to Melted Butter
Add Sugar & Buttermilk to Melted Butter
Add dry ingredients to mix in large pot

6. POUR in buttermilk and stir well.
(OR if using an egg, beat in well.)

7. STIR in flour mixture, a cup at a time, until well mixed. BEAT 20 strokes.

Stir dry ingredients into wet until just blended
Stir dry ingredients into wet until just blended

8. MAKE sure dough is cool enough to handle for hand-shaping. Shape into 1-1/2 inch balls.

NOTE: I oiled my hands. Marc didn’t. Oiling your hands is not necessary. The dough handles well.

Hand Shape Cookie Dough into Balls
Hand Shape Cookie Dough into Balls

9. PLACE on non-stick or parchment paper lined cookie sheets, 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.

Cookie Dough Balls Ready for Baking
Cookie Dough Balls Ready for Baking

10. BAKE 15 minutes or until lightly browned at 350F.

11. COOL on cookie racks ’til room temperature.

Soft Spiced Honey Cookies cooling on rack

YIELD: 3-4 dozen (depending on the size of the cookies you make). Store in an airtight container.

COMMENTS: ALL spiced cookies and honey cookies are tastiest a day or two after baking. It allows the flavors to blend and become more distinct.

These simple, plain-looking cookies can be “fancied up” with chopped nuts or dried fruit or glazed lightly. But they’re very good just like this.

15 thoughts on “Soft Spiced Honey Cookies”

  1. Hi! Shankari ~ Even ONE day enriches the flavors. Naturally, we ate some warm from the oven. The flavor really is BEST at room temperature….and a couple of days later.

  2. I’m with you there- I dislike fresh cookies immensely- cake too! Much better after two days…yes, yes, yes.
    Can you believe I also own a copy of this book? Mine was found less-romantically: thrifting, but I put it in my basket because of those same charming illustrations you mention, and thought it might be amusing to see what the western understanding of eastern food a few decades ago would be. I must say I was impressed by the lore collected for each of the listed spices!
    As for the flour-measuring, I did what Marc did until I noticed that the edge wasn’t perfectly straight; now I use the flat as well.

  3. What a great recipe! I love spiced cookies, especially when they are soft. Thank you for the step by step tutorial. It’s very helpful. I am so glad you keep at this blog. Bri would be proud.

    PS: Just wanted to let you know Bri’s and my b-days are only 2 days apart, hers on December 16, mine on 18. I will think about Bri on her b-day.

  4. Pel ~ Glad you’ve noticed how flavors improve with a few days mellowing. Goes against most of our baking inclinations….as we usually get inspired to bake when we just “must HAVE” some homemade goodies.

    Delighted to hear you have a copy of the Spice Cookbook…charmed by those illustrations. Haven’t known anyone else who did. Yeah, isn’t all that spice history fascinating? Authors & publishers would be reluctant to devote the time, space, and budget to all that these days. But it makes the book. What are your favorite recipes from it? Have you used it at all? I should do a series on my fav Spice Cookbook cookies, but will have to arrange cookie eaters to consume the results as I’m plump enough already!!!

  5. I was drawn in by your marzipan truffles during a hunt for holiday things to make with my almondy stash and I just had to mention that my mother had a copy of this cookbook in her hoard while I was growing up. I remember making these at one point. Very yummy. I’m hoping my truffles turn out as well. Thanks for posting the instructions.

  6. What I really like is the texture of cakes and cookies after 2 days; they’re “too green” otherwise! 🙂 Now, pie is a different story of course…and OMG look at all the different pumpkin pies on pp. 421-2! I think I just gained a pound… and yes, think of how much they’d have to pay an artist nowadays to do all of these drawings! Yep…this is a special book indeed. I’m ashamed that I haven’t cooked anything from it yet.

    I give away cookies to my neighbors…they think I’m being nice. 🙂

  7. Pel ~ Interesting note on texture. I’ll have to keep our next batch of cookies around long enough to notice.

    Pumpkin pies…haven’t gotten that eggless tofu version recipe from my friend, yet. But now that we’re back, I’ll pester her for it. Assembled my own variation at my folks from several on-line recipes using fresh pumpkin & sweetened with molasses & maple syrup. Was a tasty first-go: nice firmness, smooth texture, not quite enough cinnamon, could have used a bit more molasses. Got appreciative compliments from those in-the-know (about the tofu) and those not-in-the-know (because they wouldn’t have eaten it). Encouraging!

    As long as you have the cookbook, give it a try. Let us know what you decide on.

    PS. I’m sure you ARE being NICE!

  8. I have this cookbook! I used to use it all the time – it’s completely stained and yellowed. I even used to make these very same cookies all the time. Now I have to get the book down off the shelf, blow off the dust, and re-explore. I try not to bake unless it’s to take out of my apartment. Menopause has not been kind to my metabolism. Waahhhhhhh!

  9. We’re building a small, “exclusive” Spice Cookbook club here. Dust it off and tell us which recipes YOU liked best, notes on your improvs, etc. Yeah, I only bake cookies for crowds, too. Don’t dare have them around….otherwise, I’ll nibble at them.

    BTW, if you do some holiday cooking….and have the TIME (the BIG issue), please take photos of the ingredients, cooking process, finished dish & a serving plated attractively….plus the recipe & your notes. I’d really enjoy featuring some guest chefs on FWB. Have asked Bri’s aunt & cousin, a couple of girlfriends who are talented cooks, & Amara, who seems open to the idea…but no one has come through yet.

    Pel ~ Are you interested?

  10. I have The Spice Cookbook too! My copy belonged to my grandmother, and I have undertaken to cook as many of the recipes as possible… meaning those recipes that don’t have any ingredients that I won’t eat!

    LOVE the pictures, which is what got me started on using the book… Some of the chapters are more useable these days than others: for instance, the “Beverages” chapter has an awful lot of sugary punches, and the “Desserts” chapter has too many similar and insipid sugary fruit compotes (along with a wide variety of other, more interesting, desserts).

    Favorites so far: Date and Nut Bread (no baking powder!) and Saffron-Lemon tea bread (sub olive oil for butter!) on p. 126, Onion Corn Meal Pancakes (great with chili) on p. 133, Apple Charlotte (use real sherry instead of cooking sherry) on p. 244, Rhubarb Ginger Pudding (great with cinnamon ice cream, but also dandy plain) on p. 256, Fresh Fruit Mold (made with the Spiced Angel Food Cake from p. 173) and Pineapple Refrigerator Cake (a showstopper!) on p. 265, Herbed Scrambled Eggs and Tuna Fish on p. 277, Savory Baked Haddock on p. 285, Baked Fish Steaks with Soy Sauce on p. 286, Codfish, Portuguese Style on p. 290, Mariner’s Stew on p. 291, Beef and Vegetable Stew with Wine on p. 339, Beef Vindaloo on p. 340, Dilly Beef with Sour Cream (sub Fage 2% fat Greek Yogurt for the sour cream)on p.341, Spaghetti with Tomato-Clam Sauce, p. 388, the above-mentioned Coq au Vin on p. 434, Saffron Rice Pilaf on p. 456, the tomato salads on p. 465, Shrimp and Avocado Salad on p. 469, the yummy Tomato Gravy on p. 506, Corn and Zucchini Squash on p. 557, Mushroom Saute on p. 564 (most bizarre picture in the book!), and the simple but excellent Potatoes and Chick Peas, Indian Style on p. 571.

    Just two general comments about the recipes in this book:
    First, and most importantly, they call for an insane amount of salt. ALWAYS start off with at MOST half of the specified amount of salt, or you will be sorry!
    Secondly, many recipes in the book call for instant minced onion (dried), an ingredient I usually replace with fresh. But give it a try in some of these dishes… it gives an interesting effect in some of them. Hope you enjoy these old fashioned recipes as much as we have!

  11. Clebby ~ WOW! You’re cookin’ And am I impressed! Such fun finding other foodies who enjoy ‘The Spice Cookbook.’ Appreciate your tips & substitutions, too.

    You’re inspiring me to try some of the recipes you like that I haven’t made yet:
    ~ the Date-Nut Bread to compare to my mother’s yummy version.
    ~ the Saffon-Lemon Tea Bread that I’ve intended to make, but never have.
    ~ Rhubarb Ginger Pudding (am wanting to do more with rhubarb)
    ~ Pineapple Refrigerator Cake (how can I not after your RAVE review?!!)
    ~ Onion Cornmeal Pancakes, which I’m sure my hubby would love…and the veggies, pilaf, salads, and chickpeas dishes. I don’t eat meat or fish or eggs anymore, so our other readers will be the ones to give those a try. Thanks a bunch for this fun list and for stopping by to share your enthusiasm!

  12. These sound sooo good! But I need a recipe that is completely sugar free… Since it is such a small amount of sugar in this recipe, Can I just leave it out? Or do you have any suggestions?

  13. Hi! C ~ Glad you stopped by. You could probably leave the sugar out or you could substitute with palm sugar or use 1/8 cup more honey and cut the liquid ingredients by the same amount (1/8 cup). I use organic cane sugar to avoid GMO ingredients. What about sugar are you needing to avoid?

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