Browsing articles in "Cookies"
Apr 3, 2010

Everyday Cookies

Okay, so we all know that besides a whole lot of tomfoolery, this blog runs primarily on sweet cream butter and granulated sugar. I love that. Full fat dairy and sugar turn me on. But every once in a while, even I get all California with myself and feel the need to reduce a little, for lack of a better word. Up the water and vegetable intake, cut back on the white sugar and flour, run an extra mile and work another date with Jillian into the week. And put the kibosh on the produce that ends up uneaten, like the constant lone banana that is always taunting me from the counter top, destined for the compost. Sidenote: How is there always one poor banana left speckling away in the fruit basket? How?

The funny thing is, after a couple days of this virtuous living business, the sweet tooth takes a back seat, or at the very least, all that sugar seems a little less appealing. No, guys, I’m serious. Why are you all laughing at me?! Psshh.

Anyway. Despite this this new leaf I’ll be turning over for the next 48 hours or so until I can’t take it anymore, I. Must. Bake. It’s in my blood. If I go too many days without whisking or folding, I get the shakes. Plus, Little C is a whopping 19 months old now, and cookies are akin to currency around here. Enter this gem of a recipe.

If ever there were an everyday cookie, this would be it. I mean, granted, in my world, pretty much every cookie can be everyday cookie, but this one is special. They come together in a flash, nearly a one-bowl deal with a wooden spoon, full of the kind of totally wholesome ingredients that just make you feel good all over. Besides the fact that I can already sense the comments coming from friends and family who might be curious if my next trick will involve moving to a commune, I couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you. And at the great risk of sounding like a dime-a-dozen press release for a new cookbook for moms or something, this is quick and easy, real food for a real day. And I think that’s pretty great.

This cookie is all oatmeal (some ground into flour, some left whole and tweedy), no white flour, only a bit of raw sugar and that aforementioned overripe mashed banana for a completely satisfying sweetness. Heck, since there’s oil involved, but no eggs or butter, these could even be vegan in flash, just by swapping out the cow milk for soy and using dairy-free dark chocolate chips. And since one of my favorite people in the entire universe is my utterly adorable vegan little sister, this is a recipe I’ll be hanging onto for a long time coming.

Crunchy and nubbly on the outside, with an interior like an awesome banana bread, the texture here is totally craveworthy. Crammed with toasty nuts and bits of chocolate in addition to the all the health involved, these don’t taste like anything other than just dang good cookies. The kind you can shove one after the next into your face without thinking. I’m just saying.

Everyday Cookies
Adapted loosely from Health Magazine, November 2008, of all places

These cookies could easily be made vegan–just swap out the cow’s milk for soy and use a dairy-free chocolate chip, such as the semi-sweet ones by Tropical Source. These could be made even more virtuous by leaving out the chocolate entirely and using raisins or other dried fruits as an add-in. Some shredded toasted coconut wouldn’t hurt, either, if you’re into that sort of thing. Use any nut you like, roughly chopped, and lightly toasted in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.

Makes about 16

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raw (turbinado) sugar
1 large ripe banana
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup milk (can be swapped out for soy–see note)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds (or other nut you prefer), lightly toasted
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (see note)

Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Place 1 1/4 cups of the oats in a food processor or clean coffee grinder (my preference) and grind the oats very finely into a flour. Pour into a large mixing bowl and whisk together with the remaining 3/4 cup of oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Set aside.

Peel and halve the banana. Chop half into a medium dice and set aside. Place the other half in a medium bowl and mash well with a fork or your hands until it resembles a puree–no big chunks. Whisk in the oil, milk and vanilla.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wets. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the batter until well-blended. Fold in the nuts and chocolate chips and chopped banana pieces. Let stand for about 10-15 minutes. Drop the batter in to mounds, 2 tablespoons each, onto the baking sheets, no more than 9 per sheet. Bake until puffed and golden, 22-25 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Cool for 2 minutes on the sheets before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days (note: after the first day or so, their outer crunch will go soft, but they’ll still be delicious).

Mar 23, 2010

Triple Chocolate-Pecan Biscotti

I ask you, can one be OWNED by biscotti? Because this past weekend, I became captivated by a recipe for them, with motivation to do little else than bake them and get them in my belly. I was twinkly-eyed, distracted, lovelorn for this biscotti.

So as of today, my refrigerator is still badly in need of a clean-out. Laundry is sitting in heaps, mocking me. And I’m not entirely certain I still have a living room rug under all those flippin’ wooden puzzle pieces that are constantly stabbing me in the metatarsals. But you know what I am sure of? Domestic failures don’t seem nearly as depressing when you survey them while munching these completely addictive Triple Chocolate-Pecan biscotti. So make a batch, and you, too, might be able to put off mopping those floors for one more week! You’re welcome.

Full disclosure: I’ve not had great luck with biscotti recipes in the past. I know, I know, I can hear your cries of “ohhh, but they’re so fun to make and so eeeeeaaasy!”. Well, I know they’re supposed to be fun and easy, and maybe it was my lack of a biscotti thumb or whatever, but until now, I’d never turned out a batch that I would consider to be transcendent, and besides that, they’d get all crumbly during slicing before the final bake, or they’d be weirdly coarse or so hard you could crack a veneer or just generally uninteresting. But lo, we have a winner now, people. And it comes from the cookbook I’m currently keeping under my pillow at night, Karen DeMasco’s totally lovely The Craft of Baking.

These glorious chocolate biscotti (actually triple-chocolate, if you’re counting–in powdered, chipped and dipped forms) actually had me thinking I was headed for another failure at first, because the dough is so crazy soft and sticky, it’s really more like a thick brownie batter, and I was all, “WTF, Karen?”. But with my beloved bench scraper (which I hope you have and if not, please save yourself and get one) and a generous dusting of flour on my work surface (and I do mean generous–like a 1/3 cup or more), I was able to cajole the soft dough into planks for the first bake.

Turns out, I think the super wet dough is what makes these biscotti so amazing–light, fine-textured, delicate and crisp, not jaw-achingly cronch-y like so many coffee shop specimens that give biscotti a bad name. It also makes for an easy slicing before the final bake, which this biscotti-wary baker was very grateful for.

Also, I need to tell you that the chocolate flavor here is so bold, it’s almost surprising. As I am wont to do, I used Valrhona cocoa, which I’m sure didn’t hurt, but the real secret here is a sort of homemade coffee extract that DeMasco uses often in her recipes, and like the way a great vanilla extract boosts all those dreamy notes of sweet butter and sugar in other recipes, the bright flavor of coffee adds a roundness to chocolate that is so next-level, I simply don’t have the adjectives on me to explain it. It’s like a chocolatey punch in the face. But in a good way. See, I told you I didn’t have the adjectives to spare.

After the last bake, even just bare and plucked straight off the baking sheet, these biscotti had me at hello. In fact, I immediately scarfed down a second one, you know, just to be sure. Yep, I was definitely in a relationship with this biscotti. But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed to make this understanding official, and take things to the next level. And so, I did the only logical thing.

And that, my friends, is how you get OWNED by biscotti. Let me know how it goes when it meets your parents.

Triple Chocolate-Pecan Biscotti
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

This dough is extremely sticky, so have lots of extra flour standing by before you begin working with it. If pecans aren’t your thing, walnuts, almonds and pistachios would all be nice here too. I am suggesting a half-and-half blend of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips for dipping, because for me, it’s the perfect balance, but if you’d like to use just one kind of chips, go for semi-sweet.

Makes about 3 dozen

For the cookies:

1 cup pecan pieces, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon hot water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (regular size is fine)

For dipping:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli 60% cacao)
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Place the pecan pieces in a small baking pan. Toast for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

Stir together the instant espresso powder and hot water in a small bowl to make a coffee extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, baking soda and salt. Beat on low speed until the butter is no longer visible and the mixture resembles hot cocoa powder, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and coffee extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture until well-blended. Stir in the cooled pecans and mini chocolate chips.

Generously cover a work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out onto the work surface, and flour your hands well, too–the dough will be very soft and sticky. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough in half, and shape each portion into a plank, about 16 inches long by 2 inches wide (don’t fear having too much flour on the outside of the planks–you can dust off the excess later). Carefully transfer them to a baking sheet about 3 inches apart.

Bake until the planks are firm to the touch, 20-25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the planks, still on the parchment or baking mat, to a cooling rack, and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

Transfer the planks to a cutting board, and use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour. With a large serrated knife, cut the planks on the diagonal into about 1/3-inch slices. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and return them to the oven until they are dry and firm, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on the baking sheet set on a wire rack.

Combine the bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Quick-temper the chocolate by removing half the chips to another bowl, and microwaving the remainder in 30 second bursts on high power until completely melted, stirring after each 30 second interval. Add the rest of the chips to the melted chocolate and stir until all the chips are totally melted. Dip one end of each cookie in the melted chocolate and set on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set at room temperature.

The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Mar 1, 2010

Lemon-White Chocolate Butter Cookies

I just don’t know how to act, you guys. Because seriously, the good recipe karma that has been flowing through the Piece of Cake kitchen lately is almost getting creepy. We’ve had a lot of hits around here lately, some of which I’ve yet to share with you. At this rate, I’m due for a real kitchen disaster that involves overflowing cake batter or burning the place down, but for now, I’ll take it. These lemon white chocolate chip cookies are now firmly planted in my Top 5 cookie recipes of all time and that’s juuuust fine by me.

This recipe comes from Bakewise, a book that I refer to again and again, not just for recipes, but for insane amounts of information on the science of baking. Are you familiar with Shirley Corriher, food scientist extraordinaire? You might recognize her as the jolly and very Southern woman with cropped silver hair who often appears on Good Eats with Alton Brown. Or as I like to think of her, the person who sits to my right at the table in my favorite daydream, wherein I have a loud, long lunch with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Ina Garten, Christopher Kimball and Nick Malgieri. Come to think of it, these cookies would be the most perfect little button on my imaginary menu for said lunch.

Shirley’s recipes (or Shirlz, as I’d call her if we were real, actual friends) are among some of the most foolproof you’ll ever find in any baking cookbook. She simply will not let you make a mistake–her unique voice is positively all over every single page. It’s fantastic. And oh, that Shirlz, is she ever gabby–some of the recipes do run sort of long, and if you’re a more experienced baker, you may be able to pick out the steps from the paragraphs without actually reading the entire recipe, and what you’ll find with these cookies is that they are really sablés, the slice and bake, buttery French shortbread cookies that are dead simple to make and come together in minutes.

The Shirlz-y magical twist on this classic cookie that take it over the edge into oh em gee territory is a combination of sharp, bright lemon and sweet, dreamy white chocolate chips. It’s an absolutely heavenly, remarkably balanced and ultimately craveworthy cookie. Oh, that Shirley. She’ll getcha, I’m telling you.

This cookie dough is the kind that you’ll want to make an entire batch of, even if you’re not the type to want several dozen cookies in your house at any given time (though if you are one of these people, you are dead to me. I kid!). Once you get the dough together and form it into logs and wrap them tightly, it will keep for several months, and since these are of the slice-and-bake variety, you could even just slice off a few cookies at a time and bake them whenever the urge hits. You know those domestic queens who always talk about just “having things on hand” to serve to guests? Well, this is the way to do it. And if I drop by your place and these little buttery, crisp, lemony gems are what you serve me, well, I hope you don’t mind sleepovers.

Lemon-White Chocolate Butter Cookies
Adapted from Shirley Corriher’s Bakewise

Note the flour here is spooned and leveled–it does make a difference in how much ends up in the cup. Like many slice-and-bake butter cookie recipes, this dough freezes beautifully for several months. Don’t worry about making perfectly circular logs out of the dough–I actually made mine into square-shaped logs because I think it makes them easier to slice and a round log usually ends up getting a little flat on a couple sides anyway. Once you taste these, looks are irrelevant.

Makes 4 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 large egg yolks
2 cups spooned and leveled all-purpose flour
1 cup white chocolate chips

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup, lemon extract, and lemon zest until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the yolks, one at a time, and beat with each addition, just to blend in thoroughly. On the lowest speed, beat in the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl and across the bottom once. Stir in the white chocolate chips.

Pat the dough into a disc and divide it into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking spray or silicone baking mats. Slice cookies into about 3/8-inch slices (you should get 12 per log) and arrange about 1 inch apart on the sheets (I put about 20 on a sheet). Refrigerate one sheet while you bake the other–you want the dough as cold as possible when it goes into the oven to prevent spreading. Bake one sheet at a time until the edges just begin to brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Allow to cool on the sheet for 2 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

Feb 22, 2010

Homemade Graham Crackers

Well. I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided that few things are more frustrating than spending exorbitant amounts of time and dirty dishes making something from scratch and then realizing that, all things considered, you actually prefer the stuff from the can (I’m looking at you, enchilada sauce). But despite the possibility of such a situation, I always get an unnatural charge out of making typically store-bought things from scratch. There’s just something nerdily satisfying about finding a way to take familiar things to some other-worldly level that makes you think that perhaps you’ve never really had the real thing at all (see also: marshmallows, ice cream). Such was the case with these homemade graham crackers.

I started thinking about homemade graham crackers forever ago, and bookmarked it in my mind at a time when my brain was supple and unfettered enough to be trusted to hold long-term thoughts. And then I had a baby, and forgot all about doing something as crazy as making homemade graham crackers. But then toddlerhood came along, and graham crackers became akin to currency, and I suddenly thought to shake the dust off that old idea to try making them from scratch. Also, my latest trip to Miette Patisserie here in San Francisco left me completely unable to shake them.

Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with Miette? Stepping into one of their shops is like being enveloped with design inspiration, everything from the cupcakes to the wallpaper, much in the way that going into an Anthropologie store renders me hypnotized and despising every home furnishing I own, and overcome with the need to replace them exclusively with items from that place. Kitschy lamps! Vintage fabric drapes! Delicate tea cups on display!

And then I remember that I have a tiny bull living in my personal china shop and I’ve found it pointless to even hang drapes at all and that all potentially breakable items in the entire house live crowded on our fireplace mantle at an un-Little C-friendly height and I cry a little. At least when I go to Miette I can come home with something that is still inspiring, but edible, as to not need precious placement in our house. And one of my recent purchases were their utterly addictive graham crackers.

At seven bucks a pop for a short stack, naturally you’d hope Miette’s graham crackers far surpass the store-bought variety that comes in those brown wax-papery sleeves. And lo, they do. The thing is, they’re not really like any graham cracker I’ve ever tried–these are intensely buttery with the most incredible snap, and not at all crumbly or dry. The flavor here is complex with earthy whole wheat flour, dark brown sugar and a touch of honey and cinnamon that reminds you that, oh yes, this is supposed to be a graham cracker.

What’s more, I can’t think of anything more versatile that’s come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen as of late. I wholeheartedly recommend them for ice cream sandwiches and s’mores–they’re even more sturdy than the kind you’d buy at the store and hold up well to freezing and long-term storage, a total workhorse cookie, if you will. Of course, they’re also perfect for just plain eating with a glass of cold milk or some tea from a pretty little mug, like my single Anthropologie-esque teacup that I keep on lockdown when not in use. Just an idea there for you.

Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted from Miette Patisserie, San Francisco

The key to getting the crispiest cookies with an awesome “snap” is to roll the dough very thin–try for as close to 1/8 of an inch as you can. This is a very buttery, soft dough–be sure to chill it completely before rolling and then again chilling the cut cookies well before baking them, otherwise they will be maddeningly difficult to work with and will spread during baking.

Makes about 4 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies

2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I like stone-ground organic flour)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like the punch of Vietnamese cinnamon)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat it to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Whisk together flour, wheat flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and brown sugar, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and beat in the honey. Stir in dry ingredients on low speed. Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disc, wrap well. Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out very thin, about an 1/8-inch thick (you can gather the dough scraps and reroll as necessary). Cut out cookies with a 2 to 3-inch cookie cutter and place on the prepared baking sheets, a dozen per sheet. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired. Chill the cut cookies on the sheets for at least 15 minutes before baking. Bake 14 to 16 minutes until golden. Let the cookies set for a minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a week or more.

Dec 21, 2009

Thin, Chewy Chocolate Cookies

I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of just about everything over here, guys. Shopping days, patience for fellow shoppers, time, mental capacity, clean pairs of stretchy yoga pants to house the results of all awesome holidayfood I’ve been consuming as of late. And on a related note, I’m also running out of my beloved Valrhona cocoa powder because in order to cope with the madness, I’ve made a double batch of the best dang chocolate cookie you’ll have all season.

Because it makes me feel better about my stress levels, I’d like to think that we’re all in this harried holiday race together, so I will just get to the point and tell you what you really need to know: this particular chocolate cookie gives the legendary World Peace Cookie a run for its money. And that’s no joke. Consider it the soft, chewy counterpart to that cookie. And if you haven’t tried a WPC and have no idea what I’m talking about, well, now you’ve got an awful lot of chocolate cookie baking to do. Both are the epitome of sweet-salty-chocolately perfection. But this chewy chocolate cookie has a texture on top of that amazing flavor that is so incredibly craveworthy. It’s really something. If, like me, you’re still trying to milk these last few holiday baking days for all they’re worth, this recipe is a fantastically worthy candidate. Perfect for stacking in holiday cookie tins, too.

Now, I’m not one to go on and on about how you always have to use, say, the BEST vanilla extract or the BEST chocolate in a recipe or it’s just not even worth attempting the recipe. I’d much rather have people use the best ingredients they can afford, whatever those may be and not make anyone feel all bad about not buying the $15 bottle of vanilla extract (can you hear me, Martha and Ina?). But because we’re friends, I will always gently point it out when spending more for a premium ingredient makes a big difference in a recipe. And this, my friends, is one of those times. Going for one of the excellent cocoa powders on the market makes for a rich, midnight-dark dough that really makes this cookie spectacular.

These cookies are one for your permanent repertoire–dead simple, big chocolate flavor and so, so right with a hot mug of coffee or cocoa on a wintry day. I should know; I’ve been routinely regrouping from all the holiday craziness by parking myself on the sofa with a mug in one hand and one of these cookies in the other, in a pair of aforementioned stretchy yoga pants.

Thin, Chewy Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

This is a time that it’s so worth it to spend a little more for a dark, rich, premium cocoa powder. I love Valrhona and Scharffen Berger in this recipe. In place of regular salt, I like to use 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel when I’m feeling extra fancy–it does make a difference.

Makes about 4 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (see note)
1 1/4 cups (2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
Additional granulated sugar or sanding sugar, for dipping

Into a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and vanilla on medium speed until it is creamy, about one minute. Scrape down the bowl and add 2 cups of sugar and the eggs. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about two minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually stir in the dry ingredients until the dough i just combined and there are no dry pockets. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about one hour.

When you’re ready to bake, position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Scoop the dough by level tablespoons and roll each portion into a smooth ball. Dip the top of each dough ball into granulated sugar or white sanding sugar to coat. Place the dough balls onto the prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time, rotating the sheet halfway through the baking time, until the cookies are set, but still soft in the center, about 8-10 minutes (you will notice the cookies will puff and then deflate–they will be finished about one minute after they deflate). Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Dec 8, 2009

Simple Rolled, Iced Sugar Cookies

I love hearing little bits about people’s holiday traditions, don’t you? Whether it’s donning gaudy sweaters or midnight Mass or a certain brunch casserole, it seems like everybody’s got their something that makes them breathe deep and say to themselves, Okay, now it’s the holidays. For me, that’s baking up a batch of Heirloom Sugar Cookies. They just taste like Christmas to me. And I know I’m not the only one getting the sugar cookie itch this time of year. When I asked you to tell me about your favorite holiday cookies, the humble cut-out sugar cookie, decorated with icing and colored sugars, popped up again and again. It’s the kind of thing that everyone can agree on during the holidays–even those with pudgy, impatient little hands.

Though my Heirloom Sugar Cookies can be rolled out and cut for decorating with a little extra doing, I usually don’t gild the lily–buttery and delicate, they’re perfect just flattened into rounds and unadorned. But this time of year, everyone needs a sturdy sugar cookie recipe that is designed for rolling and cutting and rerolling and cutting some more, something that bakes up flat and crisp, a perfect canvas for frosting and glittery decors. You know, the kind of cookie you can play with, like a totally delicious, edible craft project. Perfect for gifting and impromptu holiday cookie parties of all sorts. If you’re feeling especially crafty, you could even make them into ornaments. Really!

Now, in my pre-toddler-rearing heyday, I could spend hours crouched over sheets of cut-out cookies with a piping bag, surrounded by little bowls of royal icing in a bunch of carefully blended colors, like some kind of deranged Martha disciple. And trust me, if I could dislodge this tiny person from the leg of my jeans, I would still be perfectly happy doing just that. But that sort of fanciful celebration of frosting is just not likely to materialize during this holiday season. Sad face.

However. I will be baking festively-shaped cookies no matter what in the name of holiday spirit, dammit! And baking sugar cookie cut-outs and not decorating them at all would be sick and wrong and just basically depressing. So instead of dealing with gel food coloring and a bunch of piping bag hysteria, I opted to go the elegant-and-sophisticated-by-way-of-doing-half-the-work route. And nothing looks more slick and elegant on a cookie than royal icing, which whips up in less than five minutes if you can get your hands on a package of endlessly useful meringue powder, which I recommend you do as soon as humanly possible. I love this stuff.

Just flood the surfaces of the cookies with plain white royal icing, wiping the edges of the cookies clean of any wayward icing as you go, and generously coat them with white jimmies, sanding sugar, or, like I did with my snowflake cookies (that doubled as Stars of David depending on which way you looked at them, two concepts in one!) a nice coating of sweetened flaked coconut that made them look extra snowy and added a nice flavor punch.

Wrapped in a big cellophane bag with a nice silver bow, these white-on-white iced cookies would make a perfect hostess gift–the kind of thing that people charge exorbitant amounts of money for and make the recipient ooh and ahh over your thoughtful generosity. Now that’s some holiday magic for you.

Simple Rolled, Iced Sugar Cookies

Working with the dough one half at a time will make it easier to keep the dough cool, making it easier to roll and cut clean shapes. The meringue powder for the icing can usually be found in gourmet groceries, kitchenware and craft stores. This icing recipe will make an icing that can be spread cleanly over the entire surface of a cookie; to make it thick enough to pipe, leave out the additional teaspoon of water.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size

For the cookies:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the royal icing:

1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoons meringue powder (see note)
1/4 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (optional)
Various sanding sugars, jimmies, etc. for decorating

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and almond extract. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the dry ingredients until the dough it smooth–it will be soft. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and pat it into a disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

When you’re ready to bake, position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly dust a work surface and a rolling pin with confectioners’ sugar or flour. Divide the dough in half (leaving one half covered in the refrigerator) and working with one half of the dough at a time, roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with cutters and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time, rotating the sheet halfway through baking time, until the cookies just begin to turn golden on the edges, about 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, prepare the icing. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons water, meringue powder and vanilla, if using, until smooth. Beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Stir in the additional teaspoon of water–the icing should be thick enough to be controlled, but still thin enough to spread cleanly across the surface of a cookie without leaving a track when spread. If necessary, add a bit more water to thin the icing.

When the cookies are completely cool, ice them with the royal icing and decorate as desired. Set the iced cookies on a wire rack to allow the icing to dry completely before storing in an airtight container.

Dec 4, 2009

Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies

While I’m pretty much always a sucker for a great heirloom recipe, this time of year really gets me into the spirit of seeking out recipes that have soul. The more hands that have passed over a recipe, the better. When I got to talking to my Gramma about some of her favorite recipes this past summer, the first one to come up was for an oatmeal cookie that was apparently so phenomenal, it sounded like it could cure all ailments. When her packet of handwritten recipe cards arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later, I was so manically happy to see that a card for Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies had made it into the envelope. I turned out a batch just a few days later, and lo, they lived up the hype.

Now, there’s not a whole lot to hate on with oatmeal cookies in general. Butter, brown sugar, nubbly with earthy oats–who can’t get on board with that? Communists, that’s who. But this recipe does the norm one better–the addition of sweet, plump golden raisins and chopped walnuts that offer up their distinct flavor yet somehow nearly disappear into the tweedy depths of a richly caramel-flavored oatmeal cookie base.

I thought it so interesting that this recipe called for golden raisins. I mean, I can’t even remember the last time I bought a box of these things, if ever. The flavor of a golden raisin is so much more delicate than that if its winey black raisin counterpart. Plus, I find them to be plumper and more moist, which could be a reason for the cookie turning out so wonderfully moist and chewy–more of the liquid in the recipe goes to hydrating the dry ingredients and isn’t robbed by drier dark raisins. Just a theory here, but it works for me. If Mrs. Braun (pronounced brown) was still alive, I might ask her what she thought. But then, from what I’ve heard about Mrs. Braun, the mother-in-law of one of my Gramma’s friends, these oatmeal cookies were one of the more likeable things about her. So maybe I’d keep my questions to myself.

Another thing that I don’t usually use in cookie recipes makes an appearance here–shortening. Shudder. But alas, it does have its place in baking and it does turn out consistently chewy cookies. So I couldn’t shun it altogether. But I did tinker with the recipe a bit (please don’t come haunt me for this, Mrs. Braun) so it would cut back on the skeevy shortening and include some butter, the flavor of which is just unbeatable. I should note that for half a minute I contemplated buying butter-flavored shortening, but then I thought it might just be gateway fat into even scarier fat purchases–what would be next for me? Lard? Oleo? A very slippery slope, I’d say (pun absolutely intended).

Happily, the half butter-half shortening combination worked beautifully. These cookies came out moist and chewy with beautifully crisp edges and an almost lacy landscape, and kept fabulously on the counter. For the the two days they stuck around.

Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies

The unbaked dough freezes beautifully–just scoop the portions onto a sheet pan, freeze until solid, and toss the frozen dough balls into a big ziptop bag. Bake them straight out of the freezer for just a minute or two more than usual. Pack as many golden raisins and walnuts as you like into these cookies–the amounts are just a suggestion.

Makes about 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Generous 3/4 cup golden raisins
Generous 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk in the oats and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the shortening, butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until almost fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts until the batter is well-blended.

Drop the batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake one sheet
at a time, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the cookies are nicely browned, about 10-12 minutes. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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