These spicy skeletons are the perfect sweet treat for your Día de Muertos or Halloween celebrations. They're both a trick and a treat!
Fall is here and it's finally time to share my favorite new cookie recipe of the past year.
These dark chocolate cookies are so good I made them as skeletons for Halloween and Día de Muertos, and then made them again as woodsy holiday pine cones tipped with white frosting snow. They make adorable handmade Christmas gifts.
Their magic is in the blend of rich chocolate and habanero spice from the El Yucateco. These cookies won’t burn your tongue, but you should feel a bit of tingle on the back of your throat. I spent some time dialing in just the right amount of habanero spice to get that effect. If you want a little more or a little less spice, adjust the amount of hot sauce accordingly! It can be helpful to taste the dough before baking. The hot sauce doesn't cook out the way alcohol does, so the cookies will be about the same spiciness as the unbaked dough. Give it a taste and add more hot sauce as desired!
They're also a brilliantly surprising and unusual treat for Halloween. Who expects a hint of habanero in their holiday cookies? It's a bit of delicious culinary trickery to add spice to your holiday.
The key point, of course, is that they taste amazing. If you're kind enough to share them with friends and family, everyone will be asking for your recipe.
Cookie Baking Tips
The finished texture of these cookies should be crisp and delicate. They should have an initial crunch and then almost dissolve in your mouth. To achieve this fabulous texture, the dough is also pretty delicate before going in the oven. It is very soft and works best when cold. You should chill it three different times between rolling, cutting shapes, and baking to get the best results with the least spread. My current photos show what happens when you try to skimp on the chilling time.
Over-chilling does no harm at all, so I find this is a great recipe to make when I have other stuff going on around the house. I can do one step then wander away for another activity while the dough chills down. If I happen to forget them in the fridge for a few hours longer than planned, then no harm done! They'll be ready and waiting whenever I return.
As I mentioned above, you can adjust the level of habanero heat to your own personal desires. It helps to taste the dough before baking. The hot sauce doesn't cook out the way alcohol does, so the cookies will be about the same spiciness as the unbaked dough. You can always start with slightly less hot sauce if you're nervous. Mix things up, give it a taste, and add more hot sauce as desired!
I actually think I'll stick with the 1 1/2 teaspoons in this recipe for my Christmas batch, but I plan to bump it up for a slightly spicier set of skeletons this year!
Of course, if you're not comfortable tasting raw cookie dough, feel free to skip this step.
I decorated these cookies with simple royal icing. I like the extra crunch it gives the cookies, and I enjoy the contrast of the bright white icing against the rich dark brown of the cookies. However, you could get as fancy (or stay as simple) as you like with the decoration. I would love to try a set of skull-shaped cookies decorated in bright sugar-skull colors and designs. As you can tell by the photos, my icing skills are...rustic, so I've yet to attempt anything so ambitious.
Thankfully, they taste so good that no one minded the rough and ready design of the skeletons.
Spicy Skeleton Cookies Recipe
For the Cookies:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon El Yucateco Black Label Reserve Sauce
For the Icing:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 Tablespoon meringue powder
1-2 Tablespoon water, or more
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl until combined.
Beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add and beat in the egg, vanilla, and El Yucateco Black until creamy, 1 to 2 more minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until combined, about 2 minutes. Knead by hand or fold with a spoon or spatula toward the end if it gets too stiff for the mixer.
Taste the dough for the desired spiciness. Add more habanero hot sauce if needed and mix until evenly combined. Repeat this step as needed.
Divide the dough in half. Shape each piece into a rough rectangle and wrap in parchment paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Roll out each dough rectangle between 2 sheets of parchment paper until 1/4 inch thick. Return the flattened dough to the refrigerator until firm, about 2 hours. Refrigeration is key to keep their shape!!
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cut the dough into shapes using a gingerbread man cookie cutter and arrange 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets. Reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies. (If the dough gets too soft, freeze 10 minutes before cutting, or place back in the fridge for an hour.)
Put the cut cookies BACK in the refrigerator until firm, at least 15 minutes.
Position oven racks around the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Remove the shaped cookies from the fridge and bake for 15 minutes, switching the trays between higher and lower oven shelves halfway through. Remove them from the oven when the cookies are set but still soft. They’ll firm up as they cool.
Let them cool for 10 minutes on the pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cool all batches thoroughly before icing.
Make the icing: Beat the confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, and water until smooth and thick. Transfer to a reuseable piping bag with a circular tip. Pipe skulls and bones onto the cookies.
Let sit at least 30 minutes to dry.
Keep cookies dry and store at room temperature.
Bake up a horde of these spicy fall skeletons to surprise your friends and delight your family. If you love them as much as I do, you'll find yourself making more for holiday treats and heartwarming (and mouth-warming) Christmas presents!
For more fall favorites and spicy chocolate desserts, check out these other posts: