A cookie parade
There is never a time when I do not feel like eating a cookie.
Let me rephrase. There is never a time in my life when there is not a cookie I could be eating…as in it could be Thanksgiving, and I’ve just gorged myself on turkey, stuffing, rolls, green beans, pumpkin pie (one of my insatiable cravings…more on that later), and still — still, there will be a cookie I want to eat. Probably something quintessentially un-November, like a lemon bar, but if a platter full of lemon bars should magically appear, I would eat at least three. And then probably eat more pumpkin pie.
That’s what I love about cookies — they are truly versatile, and everyone loves some form of cookie or another. I have never EVER heard anyone say that they hate all cookies, no matter what. And if someone were to say that, they would be wrong. Of course they like cookies; they probably love cookies, they just haven’t eaten the right kind yet. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of the time people have their favorites that they will stand by until Apocalypse comes: the classic chocolate-chip, the buttery shortbread, the reliable peanut-butter, the spicy ginger-molasses. (I am, in case you were wondering, spicy.) The problem with having a favorite cookie, however, is that you can often get stuck in a rut. People who love chocolate-chip, always get chocolate-chip. And they always request chocolate-chip, and will often only eat chocolate-chip, or some relative of their old stand-by, like peanut-butter-chocolate-chip.
So when my sister asked if I could bake some cookies for her co-workers on a recent trip to LA, I immediately thought, “What kind of new, exciting cookies can I expose all of these people to? What sugar-coated worlds could I rock for these folks?” I wanted cookies that were different, yet familiar. Elegant, but not fussy. Rich, but not cloying. And so I turned to Smitten Kitchen.
I wax lyrical/crazy obsessive fan when I talk about Smitten Kitchen to people I know in real life, so I will spare you my effusions (but oh my god I LOVE her blog!!!). After consulting my sister, I decided upon the butter heavy trifecta of Pecan Sandies, Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, and World Peace a.k.a Korova Cookies. Needless to say, worlds were rocked.
PECAN SANDIES (Smitten Kitchen version found here)
My sister actually insisted (in a very non-insistent way) upon me baking these. I think that it was mostly an aesthetic decision because she liked the way that they looked like little edible square buttons on SK’s blog. I fully support any decision based on aesthetics alone, so I went along with it, and was thrilled with the buttery-rich-toasty flavor.
1 cup raw pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons coarse grain sugar (raw, sanding, etc)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake them until they are well browned, 10 to 13 minutes (give the pan a little shake every couple of minute for even toastage). Cool pan on wire rack.
In a food processor, grind the nuts with 1/4 cup of the flour. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Sift together the remaining 1 3/4 cups of flour, the salt, and the baking powder, and add it to the dough, mixing until just combined. Stir in the nut mixture. Form the dough into a square, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper to 3/16 inch thick (a rectangle approximately 10 x 14 inches). Using a sharp knife and a ruler, cut the dough into 1-inch squares. Sprinkle the cookies with the coarse grain sugar. Place them 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets (do not reroll the scraps, but definitely bake them and eat them yourself — testers!). Prick the cookies with a fork and bake until pale-medium-golden all over, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
AUSTRIAN RASPBERRY SHORTBREAD (Smitten Kitchen version found here)
Like SK, I was intrigued with the process of these bar cookies (grated dough, whoo hoo!), and was surprised to find that they were the Big Hit at the office. I thought they were very very good, if a little on the sweet side, but my heart belongs to the World Peace Cookies.
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional additions: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup raspberry jam, at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
Cream the butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.
Sift the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (or as long as a month, if you like).
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk in a food processor into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan or a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough.
With a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-lock bag with the corner cut off, squeeze the jam over the surface as evenly as possible, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.
Bake until lightly golden brown and the center no longer wiggles, 50 to 60 minutes. Wait 10 minutes, then dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar (I find when you dust immediately afterward, the heat and moisture of the cookie just soaks the sugar up).
Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife. I find that for this an all bar cookies, chilling the pan in the fridge makes it a lot easier to get clean cuts.
WORLD PEACE COOKIES (Smitten Kitchen version found here)
These are my definite favorite of the three cookies…perfectly balanced chocolate-y flavor. The texture is heavenly and the cookie itself is so irresistible that the first time I made these, my boyfriend and I ate the entire batch within one evening. It was amazing.
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour and very carefully pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, continue at low speed and mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer. Also be aware that cutting frozen dough is like trying to cut through cement — use a super sharp knife and apply firm but controlled pressure. Be aware that crackage will most likely occur.)
Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes, no more, no less. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack.
Do ahead: Packed airtight, cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months. They can also be frozen in log form for months, and can be sliced and baked directly from the freezer, adding a coupld minutes to the baking time.
Up next, a multipurpose family celebration (with cake, of course!)