Tuesday, March 28, 2006
My Favorite Cookie Recipe
The recipe I make most often is brown-sugar cut-out cookies. They work for the holidays, but also all year round, in different shapes and forms.
Update January 2007: see the video for this recipe here.
Recipe: Brown Sugar and Almond Cut-Out Cookies
- 1/2 cup butter, left out to soften at room temperature
- 1/2 cup brown sugar: in Switzerland I get the darkest I can find at a Reform Haus. One kind is lumpy, which makes the cookies a little pock-marked but these pocks get caramelized and taste delicious.
- 1 beaten egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one pack vanilla sugar)
- 1 3/4 cups flour (I sometimes use one 1/3 cup whole wheat)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup ground almonds
Making the dough
Cream butter; add brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix the flour and salt (I mix the salt directly into the first cup of flour, saves messing up a bowl) and blend into the creamed mixture. Stir in almonds. You can do all this by hand or with a mixer, though you may have to finish the last part by hand. Pat into shape.
Storing for later use
At this point you can store the dough in the fridge, well wrapped in plastic, or freeze all or part of the dough. I often make a double recipe and freeze half. Make sure you prepare the dough in ready-to roll portions, flatten them slightly and then wrap them in plastic wrap. When you take the dough out of the freezer, let it defrost at room temperature (2 hours?). Or defrost it in the fridge for several hours or overnight, then leave it at room temperature for half an hour or so until it's soft. If you don't bring it to room temperature you'll have difficulty rolling the dough out very thin, which I feel is important for the taste of the cookie (see below).
Rolling out the dough
The recipe I had (from the internet... sorry, I don't remember the source but I did modify it quite a bit) said: "Chill then roll out thin." I like to roll out the dough immediately between two sheets of baking paper. I can get it much thinner than if it's still cold from the fridge. I cut the dough into 2 or 3 parts, and roll each separately. (Again, this is illustrated in a video here.)
Actually here I used a sheet of paper on top and a silicone baking mat underneath, but all paper works just as well. You may need to dampen the table with a sponge so the paper doesn't slip around when you roll the dough.
Then I place the whole rolled-out sheet with paper into the fridge or if I'm in a hurry the freezer. Once it's quite hard (1/2 hour? 1 hour in fridge? or 15 min. in freezer), I peel off the top sheets, then peel off and replace the bottom sheet (helps for lifting cookies off sheet). If the sheet of dough has frozen solid, just wait 5 minutes. You can get really crisp cut-outs from the hard dough. Also, if the dough is very sticky (for instance for gingerbread), freezing the whole sheet makes it easy to peel off the liner.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Cutting out the cookies
I then have fun with my large and varied stash of cookie cutters. Here I used letter cut-outs to personalize the cookies for specific friends. Place the cookies on a baking sheet, usually lined with baking paper or silicone mat.
Glazing the cookies
For the cookies illustrated at the top and bottom of this post, I brushed the tops with egg mixed with milk. I don't know if I'll do that again, it makes them golden but a little blotchy. I also think I didn't bake them as long as I like, since they turned brown faster.
Any scraps I drop into a plastic sandwich bag, or wrap up in saran wrap, and stick in the fridge. If and when I have time I roll them out and cut them again. This time any scraps go directly on the cookie sheet, as you don't want to re-roll dough too often or it will get tough. I like having "ugly" cookies for my own consumption...
Baking the cookies
Bake cookies on ungreased baking sheets in preheated 180° oven for about 6 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness. I like the cookies quite brown, even browner than in the shot below.
As I made these round cookies they reminded me of the basket of sablés at the boulangerie Poilâne in Paris (though mine are less delicate and pale). I looked for photos of these, but the Poilâne website is not very detailed. Then I found a post on them in Chocolate and Zucchini, with a link to the recipe in a book called Paris Sweets : Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops. As Clotilde points out, you can see the recipe on Amazon using the "look inside" feature, page 4. Interestingly, they're called "Punitions."