Monday, December 15, 2008

Sugar Cookies (Christmas Cookies 2)

This sugar cookie recipe was my attempt to substitute for the family sugar cookie recipe that, I am ashamed to admit, I somehow lost or destroyed when I was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10, when I took over the family holiday baking. My mother was so upset with me! She never felt that this recipe tasted like the original, but I think it does, especially if you let the cookies get quite brown and you smash them quite thin. This recipe comes from that Junior League-type cookbook that also gave us the Cowboy Cookies. I believe they were called 'French Butter Cream Cookies' in the book.

These sugar cookies taste unlike any others I have had, which is why I love them so much! I'm not a fan of the rolled-out frosted sugar cookie, though I can understand why kids would have a good time making them. I don't like frosting on anything--just too sweet. Most of the time the cookie underneath isn't all that great, either, to my tastebuds. They have to be heavy enough to stand up to being rolled and frosted and end up being heavy and tasteless. The French Butter Cream Cookies are great because they melt in your mouth. They're very fragile and don't mail well, but I always send them along anyway because they're my dad's favorite. Even in pieces, they're tasty. But then, when it comes to holiday flavors, I'm completely biased!

I'll take this moment to encourage any bakers out there to invest in professional half-sheet pans in lieu of the usual cookie sheets you can get at Target or whatever. If you go to a restaurant supply store, they're likely to be cheaper than the other kind and will certainly be cheaper than what you can by in a fancy kitchen store. The advantages of the half-sheet pan are that Silpat sheets fit them exactly (Silpat is too big for the other kind of cookie sheets I had) and that these sheet pans will not buckle in the oven. I always get a nasty feeling when I hear that ominous 'POP!' from the oven--professional half-sheet pans will spare you that.

INGREDIENTS

1 c. (2 sticks, 1/2 lb) butter
1 1/3 c. sifted evaporated cane juice powdered sugar (I did sift this year, but many years I haven't bothered and it's been fine)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
2 c. whole wheat pastry flour (or 10 ounces)--supposedly sifted but I've never sifted the flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two baking trays
  2. In a medium bowl, either scoop or weigh the flour. Add the baking soda and cream of tartar and stir together. Set aside
  3. Cream together butter and powdered sugar until fluffy (using a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or your brawny arms)
  4. Add salt and vanilla and mix
  5. Add the beaten egg and mix well. At first, the mixture will look disgusting--rather slimy and slick, almost like choux pastry. If you mix long enough, though, the egg will be well incorporated and the batter will look more appealing
  6. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time and mix
  7. Roll the dough into balls the size of a walnut and put on your baking trays. (I somehow do better rolling smaller sugar cookies. However, even with a half-sheet pan I only put a dozen cookies per sheet to give them room to spread out). If the dough is too sticky to work comfortably, refrigerate for 10 minutes and try again
  8. I'm sure there are many ways to achieve the objective of a flattened cookie, but here's what we always did in my family. Put some water in a small bowl. In another small bowl, put some powdered sugar. Take any flat bottomed object that is a couple of inches in diameter (we've got some juice glasses that work really well--the key is that the bottom must be totally flat). Dip the glass in the water and then in the powdered sugar. You may have to do this a few times to get a good coating on the glass. Smash the glass on the dough balls until you have an even circle and the dough is quite thin (1/8 inch thick, maybe--I'm terrible with those kinds of estimates). I bet an older kid would love the smashing. This year Elspeth was my helper in the sprinkling department: once you've smashed all of your dough balls, cover with colored sprinkles in any combination you like.
  9. Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes. I like them a deep golden brown, but you should taste at different doneness levels to find the color you like best
  10. Cool on a rack and then store carefully in an airtight container. Cool cookie sheets before making next round

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