Pie and Other Earthly Delights
I seem to have a gentle grasp on the art of pie baking, but cookies have always been a struggle. They either are too gooey or the edges are brown. I’ve even tossed entire burned batches into the trash. I envy those who can crank out dozens of delicious treats that look and taste fabulous. For me, though, this is not the case. I can follow the Tollhouse recipe on the back of chocolate chips and the peanut butter cookie one on the label of Jif, but that’s about the extent of my repertoire. But that doesn’t seem to stop me from trying.
When I was little, the only Christmas cookies we made at our house were sugar cookies. We rolled out the dough, used our ancient metal cookie cutters, and then iced them when they were cool. It was such a treat. I inherited those vintage cookie cutters, but through my many moves they were lost in the shuffle. A few years ago as I was browsing an antique mall, I found some that looked exactly like ours, so I snapped them up!
I attempted to revive the cookie tradition when the boys were little, but their attention spans were the size of gnats. They spent maybe five minutes throwing sprinkles at each other while I ended up icing and eating the majority of the cookies alone in the kitchen. Ho, ho, ho.
Now I am retired and have all this creative energy flowing through my bones I thought, “Hey, you need to bake cookies so you can send them to the kids! Won’t that be fun and festive?” My inner voice is always cheerier than my outside demeanor.
I ended up finding a butter cookie recipe on the King Arthur Flour website, gathered all the ingredients, and set out on my holiday adventure. This recipe is unique as it uses confectioners’ sugar instead of granulated sugar in the dough. I was skeptical at first, but after a test taste I was charmed with sweetness.
I baked the cookies in two batches over two days. The first one I topped with peppermint sugar and the second with icing. As usual, the cookies came out uneven, lopsided, and brown. Curses! But looks can be deceiving. These cookies are light and delightful, and you can cover up a plethora of flaws with red and green glaze.
I guess the lesson here is we are all a little sweet on the inside, even if our gruff exteriors tell a different story.
Festivus for the Rest of Us.
Oh, and here’s the recipe. I’m sure your cookies will look better than mine and I’m okay with that.
Holiday Butter Cookies
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature (if you are using unsalted butter, use 1 teaspoon salt)
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups flour
2 1/4 confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons milk (I ended putting in more)
food coloring, optional
coarse or colored sugar for decorating, optional
1. To make the cookies: Combine the sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla, beating until smooth. Add the flour, mixing until smooth. The mixture will seem dry at first, but will suddenly come together. If it doesn’t, dribble in a tablespoon of water. (I didn’t have to do this.)
2. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flattened disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight. When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it feel soft enough to roll. It should still feel cold, but shouldn't feel rock-hard.
3. Sprinkle rolling surface and rolling pin with flour. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it 1/8” to 3/16” thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. Re-roll and cut the dough scraps. Place cookies on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be close together; they’ll barely spread.
4. Bake cookies in preheated 350 oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until they’re set and barely browned around the edges.
5. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan. If you’ve used parchment, you can lift cookies and parchment off the pan, so you can continue to use the pan as the the cookies cool.
6. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, rolling, cutting, and baking cookies. When cookies are completely cool, icing and decorate.
7. Icing: Combine the sugar, milk, and corn syrup to make a soft, spreadable icing, adding more milk if necessary. Tint the icing with food color as desired.
8. Spread icing on the cookies, using a knife to spread it all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with colored sugar, as desired. Allow the icing to harden before story.
9. Yield: about 5 dozen 2” cookies (My first batch make 4 dozen, but I used bigger cookie cutters.)
*To flavor cookies in alternate ways, you may substitute the vanilla for 1 teaspoon almond extract. For extra strong flavors such as eggnog, butter rum, etc. start with 1/8 teaspoon, and flavor to taste.
*To top cookies with colored sugar before baking (no icing necessary) reserve the egg white from the yolk used in the dough. Mix the white with 1 tablespoon water. Lightly paint the cookies with the mixture, sprinkle with colored sugar, and bake. (I did this with my first batch. Delish!)