A Taste of Ghana: Cubeb-Spiced Shortbread

The pathway to this recipe was surprisingly short: while browsing through the new cookbooks at our library, “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen” by Zoe Adjonyoh almost lept out at me and knocked me over. Its colorful cover and promise of “traditional Ghanaian recipes remixed for the modern kitchen,” had me riveted. Zoe has a Ghanaian restaurant in London. Living in the American midwest, I sometimes feel the need to raise my eyes from my hamburger and look farther afield to foods more exotic, so I’ve been enjoying this book.

I immediately riffled my way to the dessert section, and found the following Cubeb Spiced Shortbread recipe. Cubeb pepper? A little research showed that cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba) is also known as “tailed pepper,” and is grown in Java and Sumatra. It’s not commonly used in western cooking, and I had to do some deep digging for an affordable internet source. I found the Ye Olde Spice Guy on Etsy, sent in my order, and soon received a small amount of cubeb pepper in the mail. If it had come via camel, it couldn’t have been more exciting.

Before going any further, let me say that the following recipe is my own adaptation of Zoe’s recipe. Baking recipes that come from Ghana via Brixton, London, is an endeavor full of pitfalls, mainly having to do with the flour. But after working out what 180 grams of flour and 55 grams of caster sugar are in cups, I found that the recipe is a kissing cousin of my own favorite shortbread recipe, and I decided to use that.

Then, I had to make the Ghanaian Five-spice Mix. Depending on your temperament, this is way fun, or it’s torture. First you have to gather the spices, and some may require grinding. Then, careful measuring and blending. Then, inhaling. To me, the intense fragrance of the spices makes it fun: just for a moment, I’m in the Spice Islands! Here is the recipe:

Cubeb-Spiced Shortbread

Map from Wikipedia showing location of Ghana.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon Ghanaian 5-Spice Mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth, and then add the sugar. Beat until fluffy. (This can be done with a large spoon.) Stir the flour with the salt. Add to the butter mixture, along with the Spice Mix. Mix the dough together with your impeccably clean hands. It will be a bit crumbly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a rectangle 10″ long and 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 11 strips, then cut horizontally in half to create 22 cookies. Bake for about 13 to 15 minutes. While they cool, mix one cup of powdered sugar with 1 teaspoon 5-Spice Mix. Roll the warm cookies in the spiced sugar and allow to cool.

Midwestern/Ghanaian Five-Spice Mix

Mix together one tablespoon ground cubeb pepper, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and one teaspoon ground ginger.

The original Spice Mix recipe called for 6 tablespoons ground cubeb pepper. I decided to go with one tablespoon to see if I liked cubeb pepper. (As it turns out, to my tastebuds, cubeb pepper is like a peppery allspice with a note of turpentine, and is good. But I would stick with the one tablespoon quantity.) Also, I decreased the clove amount a bit.

Pictured below: the spices, grating nutmeg, and the cubeb pepper, showing its little tails.

Baking notes: The original recipe called for caster sugar, which is very fine granulated. You can make this by grinding granulated sugar in a blender until fine, or use the indicated powdered sugar. If your weather is very warm (it’s above 80 here in St. Charles), you may want to pop the dough into the refrigerator for 15 minutes before rolling out.

Pictured below: The ingredients, the rolled out dough, the baked cookies, and the cookies rolled in the spiced powdered sugar.

I am a big fan of grackles, and noticed this one high in the trees. He seems pretty much in charge of the world, and I’m okay with that. Peace to you. Fran





2 thoughts on “A Taste of Ghana: Cubeb-Spiced Shortbread

  1. Do you investigate main dish recipes besides the desserts you have featured in your blog?

    Most desserts are full of calories and very little nutrition.

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