Holiday classics, part 4: baking

We had our first significant snow this weekend. In fact, its still snowing and we’re expecting a light coating of 2 to 4 inches before it’s all over. So, not exactly a blizzard, but when March rolls around and we’re buried under two feet of snow, I will have forgotten how beautiful this first snow fall is. This kind of snow seems to make this time of year seem more meaningful and seeing the lights and decorations dusted with snow brings the holidays to life. Okay, already, I admit it, I got the holiday spirit!! Is that so wrong? My husband and I met for lunch today and I tried to pull the whole bah-humbug thing on our waiter, but he wasn’t buying it and neither am I. As the snow fell, my heart began to melt and now I’m into it, dammit! I’m into the holidays! And that means it time to bake.

For many years, my holiday gift packages to friends and family included lovely decorative bottles of flavored olive oil and vinegar that I would make and decorate with care. Everyone loved them, but one year I went to my parents house and noticed thay had 4 sets of these bottles sitting next to their stove. I was innundating my family with condiments they didn’t need. So, I switched to baking cookies.

At first, I stuck to the toll house and oatmeal cookie combo, always a crowd pleaser. But I got bored with the standard chocolate chip cookie recipe and started to experiment. You know, there are so many great cookie recipes out there it’ll make your cerebral cortex go numb? I’ve tried a number of different recipes over the years, but never really hit a recipe that I truly love. While watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen recently, I finally saw a unique cookie recipe that piqued my interest. They made a sugar cookie with dark brown sugar and browned butter that looked amazing. They were describing how chewy, candy-like, almost like caramel, these cookies tasted. I could almost smell them through the television. I scribbled down the recipe and vowed to try them out. During lunch today, as we watched the snow falling, I decided it was time to do some test batches of the brown sugar cookie recipe. After lunch, I hit the grocery store.

Its a cookie that seems easy to make, but actually requires keen attention to the details, because the details are where this cookie can either fall or shine. The basic idea here is to cream a boatload of brown sugar, almost 2 cups, with a stick and a quarter of butter that’s been browned over medium heat. Another half stick of room temperature butter is blended in followed by an egg and a yolk and finally the dry ingredients, flour and baking powder. The dough is rolled into balls, the balls are rolled in a white sugar/brown sugar combo (I added a little cinnamon) and baked at 350 for about 13 minutes. The result is a soft, chewy cookie that is crackly on top and taste like caramel. Yummy, right?

I started browning my butter and got all my other ingredients ready, sifting the flour and baking powder, measuring the sugar, etc. But I second guessed my butter preparation and added it before it had really browned adequately. Also, rather than opening another bag of brown sugar, I decided to use the light brown sugar that was already open. The dough was too wet and sticky to roll into balls. The first sheet of cookies were overbaked, hard and completely flat, almost like a tweel cookie. I added a little more flour and even a bit more baking powder to give the cookies some lift. That worked and the second tray of cookies gave me a great pallet on which to work some magic. I tried rolling some in chopped walnuts and that was excellent. Then I mixed the wallnuts with the sugar combo and rolled some in that. Mighty tasty. They had a nice chewy texture, but they just didn’t seem to have the depth of flavor that they were crying out for. I needed to really brown that butter to get the right result. And I needed to use dark brown sugar. For my second batch of dough, I did just that. I stood over the pan of butter for 15 minutes to make sure it was a golden brown color and had that nice nutty aroma. And the dark brown sugar gave them a molases cookie quality. I added butterscotch chips to a couple trays and rolled some of those in walnuts, too. Every combination works nicely. They are toothsome and caramelly and just so darn delicious I can hardly stop eating them!

Brown Sugar Cookies

14 tbsp of butter
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 1/4 tsp of baking powder
1 3/4 cups of brown sugar
1 whole egg and one egg yolk
1 pinch of salt
2 tbsp of white sugar and 2 tbsp of brown sugar to roll the dough in before baking

Melt & brown 10 tbsp of butter, reserving the remaining 4 tbsp of butter for later. Sift the flour and baking powder while keeping an eye the butter to make sure it doesn’t burn. Pour the browned butter into a large mixing bowl with the remaining 4 tbsp of room temperature butter, add the brown sugar and blend on high speed. By this point, the mixture should be fully cooled off. Mix in the egg and the yolk and beat until smooth. Fold in the dry ingredients a little at a time. The dough should be stiff and you should be able to roll it into balls, which you then roll in the mixture of white and brown sugar before baking. Place the dough balls relatively far apart as these cookies do spread while baking. Try these on for size and do some of your own experimenting. And do post a note if you try them, just to let us all know how they turn out.

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About radioabby

I'm a broadcast professional and home cook who loves music, travel and exploring unique, distinctive things, places and ideas. I love to cook, discover new flavors and improvise in the kitchen.
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One Response to Holiday classics, part 4: baking

  1. kimberlyksmith says:

    You had me at Tastes Like Caramel! I’m planning to do some baking soon and I’ll give your recipe a try.

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