In a quirk of holiday cookie extravaganzas featured in so many publications this time of the year, my sister in law asked me what is a classic cookie in Brazil.
Pão de Mel? Bem Casado? I started to think about our Brazilian repertoire. As an unapologetic nibbler of nuts, my thoughts turned to cashew fruit, in Portuguese called “ Cajú” and remembered old versions of Gourmet magazines with its infinite cookie possibilities.
The beautiful mixture of red, orange and red color makes cashew fruit of the most used symbols of Brazilian tropicalism, and its delicious taste is quite different from other fruits, displaying a tannins trait, an astringent woody and pucker feel, common in black teas, red wines and other unripe fruits.
Because of this quality, the fruit is rarely consumed in its raw state. It is mostly sold in pulps, and featured in juices, ice creams, jellies, drinks, and candies. But it is the castanha de cajú— the nut— that has the most importance economically speaking.
Brazil stands as a significant producer and exporter of cashew nuts followed by India and Vietnam. Most of the cashews nuts harvested in Brazil are destined for export to Europe, Japan, and North America. The US alone imports about 35,000 tons annually according to latest statistics.
Although cashew fruit is grown in all tropical states of the country, the biggest producers are the states of Ceará, Piauí, and Rio Grande do Norte.
Inspired by this bonanza of cashew nuts sold in Brazil, I decided to feature this recipe for cashew cookies.
The dough is as easy as shortbread but the taste of cashews give a nutty aroma, perfect to satisfy any nut nibbler. I also love how the texture of cashews never get completely crack crunchy, like other nuts, for cashew nut has a softer bite, and when combined with the crunchy cookie, it makes the perfect cookie combination.
This cookie is simple and versatile. You can omit the cashews on top and fill it with a chocolate spread. You can also dip into chocolate. You can sandwich with jam in between… the possibilities are endless.
If you like to make cookies for the Holidays, this recipe is a great way to add a Brazilian flair to a beloved cookie and will certainly bring the Holiday spirit to your kitchen!
Cashew Cookies (Inspired by Gourmet Magazine)
Makes 24 cookies
¾ cup (112g) raw cashews
½ cup (75g) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (60g) cornstarch
6 tablespoons (82g) unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup (55g) sugar
Pinch of salt
Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 350˚F.
Pulse ½ cup nuts in a food processor until finely ground being careful not to turn into a paste, then transfer to a small skillet. Toast the nuts over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent from burning until it just starts to turn pale golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cool completely.
Sift together the flour and cornstarch in a bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy, about 4 minutes.
Add the toasted ground cashews and incorporate.
Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour-starch mixture; mix just until dough forms.
7. Place dough in between two parchment paper sheets and roll out about 1/8-inch thick. Chill for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, coarsely chop remaining ¼ cup nuts.
8. Using a plain round 2-inch cookie cutter, cut as many circles as you can. Gather the dough, roll again, and cut circles again. You should have about 20-24 circles. Place in a sheet pan lined with a silicone mat, about ½ inch apart. Spread chopped nuts in the center of each cooking, and press ever so slightly to make sure the nuts stick to the dough.
9. Bake in the oven until lightly golden, about 14 minutes rotating once.
10. Transfer cookies to a rack and cool completely.