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Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

My daughter isn’t a big fan of the spice cookies or molasses softies that I make regularly, and my wife told me that my daughter wanted me to make sugar cookies. It’s been a long time since I have made sugar cookies, but I knew the recipe I wanted to make. Cookies that go by the name, sugar cookies, actually vary quite a bit, with many folks considering the cookies that are decorated with frosting as sugar cookies. To me, a sugar cookie is soft and delicate—much more delicate than the tough cookies one usually finds underneath a layer of frosting during the holidays. And, of course, the cookie must be sprinkled with sugar—why else would it be called a sugar cookie? Plus, unlike those other sugar cookies, these cookies are decorated before baking. Maybe that’s why these are called old fashioned? They certainly elicit memories from childhood.

An unexpected ingredient
This recipe is pretty simple, but one ingredient you might not anticipate is orange extract. The orange extract does a lot to add brightness and freshness, and tasters couldn’t quite put their finger on what the flavor was, though some tasters suggested hints of citrus when asked about flavor. When I told tasters that there was orange extract in the cookie beforehand, they could pick it out without too much difficulty. I think if you used real orange zest or splurged on the extract, the orange flavor might be too strong. A little goes a long way.

This is one of the few cookies I bake on silpat mats. I’ve had less than stellar results with most recipes, especially since most cookies I make call for ungreased cookie sheets. This recipe, however, is ideal for silpat since it calls for greased cookie sheets and the cookies are rather delicate.

How to tell when these cookies are done
Some of the darker cookies I make—molasses softies and spice cookies, for example—are difficult to tell doneness for because they don’t really brown. These cookies have the opposite problem because, although they are very light in color, you actually don’t want to brown them. Baking time can vary depending on how thick you make these cookies, but you want to remove them from the oven when you just think that the edges are maybe—just maybe—starting to look a little brown. My wife prefers her sugar cookies crispy and crunchy, so I made one sheet with more evident browning and they tasted a little odd: not burnt at all, but they weren’t as good.

I don’t make a lot of cutout cookies and thought rolling out the dough was going to be a pain, but with sufficient flour on the surface and rolling pin, it was pretty fun. The kids also enjoy decorating the cookies almost as much as eating them.

Ingredients for making Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies.

Add 3 eggs to 1 cup of room temperature butter and mix.

Add 1 teaspoon orange extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla to 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix until light and fluffy.

Mix together 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, pinch of salt and 3 3/4 cups of unbleached flour.

Slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time while mixing on low.

Place fist-sized ball of dough onto generously floured surface and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.

Use cookie cutter to cut out desired shapes.

Place cookies on silpat mat or greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with colored sugar.

Bake cookies for 6-10 minutes (per thickness or size) in 350° F oven until just barely browned (less brown is better).

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Old Fashioned Sugar Cookie recipe page.

Token Food Blog Post: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Monday, October 8th, 2007

The chocolate chip cookie is truly an American classic and a staple in just about any food or baking blog. For most recipes I usually look for similar recipes on other blogs, but for this recipe, what’s the point?

One of my favorite geology professors, Gerry Weber, liked to say, “All food is good, some is better”. He was also once overheard saying, “Don’t ever give cookies to stoners. They don’t appreciate them, they just eat ’em.” Are all cookies good?

To the contrary: when you think of all the home made chocolate chip cookies you have had in your life, you realize that some people can really screw them up. In the last 30 years of making cookies I have probably made this recipe more than any other cookie, but I actually believe that the chocolate chip cookie is one of the more challenging cookies I have on my site.

For years I made this with a Sunbeam Mixmaster with no issues. Then, 12 years ago, my wife bought me my dream machine: a limited edition 5 quart KitchenAid mixer. I eagerly cranked out a batch of chocolate chip cookies, toll house recipe, and they turned out horrible. Very thin, crispy things full of holes that I could barely coax off the cookie sheets. I made them again and the same thing happened. Was it the mixer, me, or the new house I had just moved into with a different oven?

Few cookies are as sensitive to the quality of ingredients, mixing method, cookie sheet, oven and chef. Discouraged with a couple batches in the trash, I tried some of my other cookie recipes and fortunately they turned out great. After a little experimenting I found that if I increased the amount of flour that the cookies were better. The moral of the story: just because it is baking doesn’t mean you can’t adjust things a little to suit your needs, tastes or environments. Seems obvious now, but remember that there were no food blogs in 1994.

For this chocolate chip cookie recipe there isn’t much I have done to the original toll house recipe except: double the vanilla, increase the flour by 1/4 cup, substitute dark brown sugar for light brown, and use dark chocolate chips. I’m currently favoring Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips because they taste great and are a little wider than regular chips.

Ingredients for making Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Add 2 eggs to 1 cup of salted butter and mix.

After adding 3/4 cups of granulated and 3/4 cups of dark brown sugars, add 2 teaspoons of vanilla.

Mix together 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 2 1/2 cups of unbleached flour together.

Slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time while mixing on low.

Mix in dark chocolate chips by hand to prevent breaking them in mixer.

Roll dough into 1 1/4 inch balls.

Space rolled dough evenly on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake cookies for 11-13 minutes in 375° F oven.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe page.