Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sugar Cookies ...

Yesterday, upon receiving some sad news, I felt compelled to bake. The sad news wasn't awful news, and I wasn't distraught, just blue. But the weather was like a pile of damp lint, to boot, so baking became the order of the day.

I thought about baking a trial batch of a cookie I want to make for May's angelo:HOME post. Miracle of miracles, I had all of the ingredients on hand. But I wasn't feeling it. I have to feel a recipe.

So I went poking around for another. And I found Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies in Dorie Greenspan's Baking, which you must own if you don't, if you fancy yourself any kind of baker. The breadth of recipes is stunning, the photography is gorgeous, and Dorie writes with an irreverent touch. It's just a pleasure of a book, all around.

Now, I'm generally not the sugar-cookie type, which is odd because I like really simple flavors. Panna cotta is my favorite dessert. A vanilla milkshake delights me. But sugar cookies, in my experience, have been hit and miss. Some are sugary to the point of being gritty. Others are just ... bland.

But Dorie's recipe calls for 10 tablespoons of butter, and I happened to have two tablespoons hanging out in the fridge from a stick I'd cut into the day before, and anyone who invokes Grandma in a cookie's recipe clearly must know what she's doing. So, I proceeded.

The dough is soft and requires chilling before baking, so I used parchment to shape two logs, twisted the ends, and plopped them in the fridge for a few hours. I baked off a few cookies last night, and baked off more this morning.

And these, I am very happy to report, are sugar cookies. Dorie offers all sorts of suggestions in her book for enhancing this dough, from rubbing citrus zest into the sugar before creaming it with the butter to adding spices to frosting the cookies with a simple glaze.

But I made them as written, no additions, no toppings. A pure sugar-cookie experience. A bit of crispness at the edge, the slightest chew in the center.

Dorie's Grandma? She knew her stuff.

Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
(From Baking by Dorie Greenspan, Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (optional)

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated—because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you—I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you're going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies—I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.) After you've rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll out and bake.

If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife* to slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you'd like. let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooking the baking sheets between batches.

* I have a boning knife in my knife set that I never, ever use for boning. It is perfect for this application.


Blogger angelo said...

A sugar cookie (or just a plain ol' butter cookie) never disappoints. And this one, sounds stellar!

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

In which you must own if you don't, if you fancy yourself any kind of baker. The breadth of recipes is stunning, the photography is gorgeous, and Dorie writes with an irreverent touch.Thanks a lot for posting.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Oh, I own it, which is how I came to post this recipe here.

I've since found a sugar cookie recipe I like even better, but Dorie is indeed a gem.

10:45 AM  

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