Friday, August 22, 2008

Midnight sugar cookies

Yesterday was a weeknight, which I sometimes still think of as “school night” even though I’m almost 28 and haven’t been in school for years. I meant to go to bed early so I could be super-productive tomorrow, kick some ass at work and save the day for my decrepit, going-nowhere project team. Instead I found myself inexplicably baking sugar cookies around midnight.

With sugar cookies, the essence of what baking comes down to – butter, sugar, eggs, and flour – comes together in a sublime little package that melts into buttery goodness in your mouth. I used to think sugar cookies were eh, boring and bland. Until I discovered this recipe from a book by Rosie’s bakery...which are the absolute best sugar cookies I’ve ever tasted. One Christmas I asked my boyfriend (let's call him H) what kind of cookie he wanted for that year's round of Christmas baking and he said "sugar cookie," which kind of pissed me off because I really wanted him to say something that was already on my list – preferably something chocolate. But I found this recipe in a random cookbook on my shelf and the cookies came out unbelievably good and I've been a convert ever since. Once again, H was right, and I was wrong. Damn him.

The other thing about making sugar cookies is that you don’t even have to bust out the mixer or clean up more than one bowl . (I hate washing dishes about as much as I hate lugging home grocery bags of flour and sugar in heels.) I ate half a pan of these cookies as they were cooling in the window. I brought some cookies to work "for sharing", and ate more of them for breakfast. And lunch. Yes, I subsist on sugary baked goods as much as possible. And ice cream. Preferably chocolate, but that's for another post.

Sugar Cookie Recipe

13 tbsp of butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup regular white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla

  1. In a large bowl, mix the icing sugar, regular sugar, salt, flour together. (A wire whisk is good for this, but a fork will be fine)

  2. Cut up the butter into chunks.

  3. Add the butter to the flour mixture. Using two butter knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into little pieces, mixing it in with the flour. Sometimes it is faster to use your fingers too -- just rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips. After awhile it should look like a bowl of crumbs that you can stir around with a fork.
  4. In a little bowl, beat up the egg and vanilla together.
  5. Dump the beaten egg into the butter-flour mixture, and stir it together with a fork until it looks all mixed in. (It'll look kinda dry and crumbly)
  6. Knead the mixture with your hands until it comes together into a dough.
  7. Divide the dough into two parts. Roll them into balls and flatten into a disc*. Refrigerate for about an hour.
  8. Roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick using a rolling pin. To make the dough not stick, roll it in between two sheets of cling-wrap or parchment paper or dust the counter with flour. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Preheat oven to 375 F
  9. Put the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake about 8-10 minutes. Once they start to turn a little brown, they should be done. (If you have it, line the cookie sheets with parchment paper -- it makes it easy to remove the cookies)

    *OR make cookies that are sliced instead of cut from cookie cutters. Form the cookie dough into a long log. Try to get the log to be uniform. I kinda make the dough into a rough log and then put it on a sheet of parchment paper (wax paper might be ok) and roll the dough in the paper using a ruler (or something long and straight) to push against the paper. Roll up the log in parchment paper, slide it carefully onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until really firm ( you should be able to pick up the dough log, like a cold stick of butter). Use a sharp knife to slice the cookies (1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick). Rotate the log after each slice if it's getting smushed. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

    1/4 cup heavy cream
    1 cup icing sugar
    drop of vanilla (optional)
    food coloring (optional)
Mix it all together with a wire whisk or fork until smooth.
It should be thick like lotion/yogurt, but it shouldn't be so thick that it stands up in stiff peaks when you lift the fork out of it. Add more cream or icing sugar if it's too thick or too watery.
If you want, add in food coloring, a couple drops at a time. Mix well before adding more drops.
Frost the cooled cookies with a butter knife (metal spatula is ideal but not necessary)
Or put the frosting into a ziploc bag. Cut a corner off of the bag and pipe out the frosting.
Let the frosting dry and set -- it takes awhile, but it's faster if you can put them in the fridge. Sometimes I let them dry overnight.

Store in airtight tupperware, ziploc bags once frosting is hardened.

Lemon-sugar cookies
Add zest of 1 lemon + 1tbsp of freshly-squeezed lemon juice to the recipe
I can’t seem to help deviating from recipes a little bit so last night I added some lemon to the cookies. I like to top that with my special (as in especially easy) lemon frosting.

Lemon frosting
Juice of half a lemon + more as needed
1-2 cups icing sugar + more as needed
Drop of vanilla

Beat icing sugar, vanilla and lemon juice together until smooth with a wire whisk or fork. Add more juice or more icing sugar to get the right consistency. For cookies, the consistency should be spreadable, but thick (or it will never dry) like all-natural peanut butter before you refrigerate it.

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