The cookies in the book range from sweetly simple to those requiring multiple components, all layered with complex flavors and textures developed with inspiration from D.C.-area poets and their work.
This symbiotic relationship between poetry and cookies got its start in 2014, when poet and arts organizer Tyler French, then interning at the DC Center, helped coordinate a Capturing Fire event.
French baked dozens of cookies to welcome featured poets and thank festival volunteers. Simple cookies evolved into more creative confections evoking queer iconography, such as “The Wilde,” a lavender Earl Grey shortbread named after Oscar Wilde, and a salty, malty caramel corn with black licorice cheekily called “S+M Corn.”
“Someone joked, ‘Regie has poetry events. Tyler, you bake cookies. Why don’t you do a cookie poetry slam?’” French says.
The first Queer Cookies Poetry Slam took place in March 2015. Each audience member received a cookie. A bake sale ran throughout the event, with the proceeds going to pay participating poets. The prize for winning the slam was a bespoke cookie creation, a collaboration between French and the winner.
“Regie had the idea that the poet who wins the slam would get a cookie based on them, which I think everyone just was tickled by it, but I think it also kind of lowered the stakes of the slam, and the poets really tried things that were a little sillier or a little more joyful,” French says.
The event went on hiatus in 2018, but French got a grant through the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities last October to revive Queer Cookies in cookbook form. The book features flavor twists including Sichuan peppercorn rainbow thumbprint cookies with a rosewater-strawberry jam and a buckwheat-rosemary gooey skillet cookie. Spices typically found in savory dishes appear in the gluten-free Spiced Almond Snowball Cookie.
That cookie is linked to the work of Rasha Abdulhadi, a writer, cultural organizer and fiction editor at Strange Horizons magazine whose work, French writes in the cookbook, “will transport you through multiple realms, emotional states, and images.” The spices in the cookie — a mix of cardamom, Aleppo pepper, black pepper, clove and sumac — deliver a small cookie with a big, powerful bite.
“I feel like the blend of spices in a cookie recipe bends the binary of sweet-hot-savory in a way that appeals to my more cosmic genderfeels,” Abdulhadi wrote in an email.
Abdulhadi hasn’t participated in the Queer Cookie Slam but has been a judge for Capturing Fire Slams.
“What does feel true to me, and what appealed to my heart so much about this project, is the sweetness of making art for each other in community, offering one another nourishments of many kinds,” Abdulhadi wrote. “For another artist … to make work in response to something I’ve made is such a deeply affirming experience, such a gift.
“The practice of giving cookies for poetry also feels like village culture to me, like an affirmation that art and poetry is for everyone, for every day of our lives, for every kitchen and every snack.”
Capturing Fire remains on hiatus for now, but Cabico says focusing on other means of connection — online programs, Zoom poetry readings and the cookbook — gives him momentum.
“Poems and recipes are the same thing,” Cabico says. “They are [both] a list of images. The recipe is a list of ingredients and they exist to feed you. … I feel like people think that poetry is like ink on paper. But there is poetry in dance, poetry in the film. And so I feel like recipes are poems.”
“It is a really lovely concept for a collection, and I hope it sparks many iterations and experiments of folding life and literature together,” Abdulhadi wrote. “It is a simple, but very profound connection to put [recipes] together with literature that is also a lineage-making.”
Spiced Almond Snowball Cookies
These small, gluten-free, nutty cookies are warmly spiced but not spicy. You’ll find their flavor rounded, balanced and not too sweet, with a grainy texture reminiscent of many South Asian confections. The cookies don’t need salt, but you could add a pinch if you like, says cookbook author Tyler French, who created the recipe.
Storage: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
NOTE: Look for a gluten-free flour mix that includes xanthan gum. It will act as a binding agent and help with structure.
1 cup (175 grams) coconut oil, soft but still solid
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes, preferably finely ground
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups (228 grams) gluten-free flour mix (see NOTE)
1 1/3 cups (150 grams) almond flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling
Ground sumac, for sprinkling
Position racks in the middle and bottom third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or using a hand mixer and a large bowl, combine the coconut oil, sugar, cardamom, Aleppo pepper, black pepper and cloves and beat on medium-low speed, until smooth, about 3 minutes. Using a flexible spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix on medium-low speed until combined. Add the gluten-free flour and mix on low speed until almost incorporated, then add the almond flour and mix on medium speed until just combined. Using a flexible spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure no pockets of flour remain. The dough will be crumbly.
Using a tablespoon-size measuring spoon or No. 60 disher, scoop out the dough, compacting it into the spoon/scoop so it holds a domed shape. Place the dough ball on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the dough balls at least 1 inch apart.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely; they will fall apart if you try to move them sooner. (If you use a larger scoop, such as a No. 40 disher, you’ll get about 24 cookies, which should bake for about 22 minutes.)
Sprinkle the cookies liberally with the confectioners’ sugar, followed by a light dusting of sumac. Serve, or store until needed, dusting with more powdered sugar before serving.
Per serving (based on 36)
Calories: 94; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 0 mg; Carbohydrates: 8 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 1 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From “The Queer Cookies Cookbook” by Tyler French and Regie Cabico (Capturing Fire Press, 2021).
Tested by Kari Sonde; email questions to email@example.com.
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Correction: A previous version of this story cited the source of the featured recipe as “Queer Cookies," published by Catching Fire Press, 2021. The source has been corrected. Also, in one instance, the name of the Capturing Fire International Queer Poetry Summit was listed as Catching Fire. That has been corrected as well.