Snacking is crucial. I need a wide variety of snacks to keep me happy and functioning every day. Nothing wild — popcorn, gummy bears, hummus and crackers, maybe a yogurt, definitely a cookie. Normally, a few of these will satisfy my hangry-pangs. But recently, my snack world has been turned upside down by discovering a whole new side to grazing: savoury cookies.
I understand some people might read the phrase “savoury cookie” and see an oxymoron, while others are bracing themselves for a just-add-bacon hack (and that sounds great, too), but savoury cookies are not a culinary contradiction, nor are they limited to adding cured meats (or potato chips) to chocolate chip cookie dough. A savoury cookie is significantly less sweet than the dessert variety. In fact, if there is any sugar at all, it’s simply added to balance out the other ingredients. It’s much thicker than a cracker, crumbly, and tender with flavorful and/or aromatic add-ins, ranging from nuts and seeds to herbs and aged cheeses. You might imagine that they’re more deserving of the British usage of “biscuit,” but that word defines a wide variety of treats in the United States. Since we lack a better term, we’ll stick with savoury cookie.
The one that changed it all for me was Brooklyn Brittle’s rosemary parmesan Italian cookie brittle. At first I was extremely doubtful of its delicious claims, but the cookie was slightly sweet; the rosemary, powerful and addicting; the parmesan, subtle and salty. I soon ate the entire bag. I found myself searching grocery stores for more tantalizingly salty cookies, and I was shocked to find a dearth of savoury cookies in my local markets. Even Brooklyn Brittle was hard to find (and I live in Brooklyn). I began tirelessly scouring the internet for recipes. I found that there are a great deal of sweet and salty recipes out there that add dried meat or potato chips to high-sugar-ratio cookie doughs, but I was looking for something a little more refined: a savoury cookie that I could eat with coffee or charcuterie. Less about the extreme flavours and more about the texture and aromatics.
With my usual recipe websites coming up short, I decided to check for recipes from other countries. After all, even Brooklyn Brittle credits Italy with its cookie. It turns out everything I wanted and more has been a mainstay in international snack cuisine for as long as history can remember. In Italy, you’ll often get complementary crunchy snacks with your wine, including cantucci or taralli, which can be flavored in a number of ways, and are often ring-shaped and cracker-y, but occasionally mounded like a crunchy drop cookie with almonds.
There is also the Italian sbrislona, like this recipe from David Lebovitz, crumbly and nutty with a touch of sweet. In India, the savoury snack cookies abound. Jeera are fragrant cumin cookies; spicy mathri are baked or fried; nankhatai are made with besan (chickpea flour), to mention a few. In fact, savoury cookie-like snacks are so popular that some stores, like Neelam, dedicate large sections in their aisles to them.
How to make your own
If you don’t happen to have any international snack foods nearby, you should take a crack at any of the recipes linked above, or get to experimenting.
Try this equation: Shortbread cookie dough – ½ the sugar + herb + nut.
Use a simple shortbread cookie dough, like this one from Simply Recipes, but instead of adding a full cup of sugar, use half. Then add an herb you like, maybe chopped rosemary. Finally, add a nut you like–how about chopped macadamias? Mix according to the recipe, stirring in the herbs and nuts until well incorporated. Portion into tablespoon-sized mounds and bake as directed.
They’re finished when the bottom starts to take on a light brown colour, but the rest of the cookie will be light, since there is very little sugar to cause browning. Once you try your own savoury cookies, you’ll be hooked. Before you know it you’ll be exploring olive oil cookies and blue cheese shortbreads for your next wine night.
For a savoury cookie that pairs remarkably well with a light red wine, try this crumbly, slightly floral, melt-in-your-mouth almond cookie.
Herbes de Provence Almond Cookies
- 1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup almonds very coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
Preheat your oven to 300℉. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Stir and smoosh until all ingredients are incorporated evenly. The mixture will look crumbly but cohesive. Use a tablespoon or similarly sized spoon to portion and shape the cookies in your hand with a gentle squeeze; a rustic shape adds charm. Arrange on a baking tray with at least a half an inch of space between the cookies. Bake at 300℉ for 35 minutes. Cool completely. Makes 18 cookies.