Archive for July, 2011

Baking Challenge: Sour Cream Cookies

July 21, 2011

There is a wondrous place in the mall where I work.  It’s a bakery stand.  It opens every Friday and Saturday.  I patronize this business much more often than I should, and I’ve gotten friendly with the man who runs it because I’m there so much (and because he’s so nice).  He sells pies, cakes and cookies of all sorts, but the one treat I always come back to is sour cream cookies.  They are delicious.  But they’re also a bit on the pricey side:  $4.50 for a bag of six.  I’m usually willing to spring for them since I love them so much, but I’m trying to watch my spending, so I decided to see if I could recreate them at home.  What I turned out today was by no means an exact replica.  I was going to tinker with it a bit to try and get it closer, but my sister and my boss claim they’re better than the ones from the bakery, so who am I to argue?  They were pretty good, if I do say so myself.  The cookie recipe is from my Betty Crocker book, but it did not call for icing, and since the best thing about those cookies is the icing, I tried to reverse engineer it using the ingredients from the label on the last bag I bought.  I just had to guess at the amounts.  The consistency of my icing was slightly thicker and a bit more creamy.  Thinning it with just a bit more water would probably make it run and harden, which would be more consistent with the original I was trying to duplicate.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies

1/2 cup shortening (part butter or margarine)
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup granulated and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (Fresh grated nutmeg intensifies the flavor.  Microplane!)
1/2 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix shortening, sugar, egg and vanilla thoroughly.  Blend dry ingredients; add to sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Divide dough; roll out to 1/4″ thick on well-floured pastry cloth.  A lightly floured board works fine, too.  The purpose of the cloth is to keep the dough from picking up too much extra flour, or so my mother tells me.  Cut with a 2″ cutter; place on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar.  I omitted this step, because I wanted to ice them and sprinkle them with sugar afterward, as the bakery does.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Mine browned within 5 or 6 minutes.  Watch them closely.

My Icing

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted  (you can skip sifting, but you’ll just have to use more elbow grease to get out the lumps later)
1 1/2 tbsp. margarine
1/4 tsp. butter flavoring
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. water

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Icing is not an exact science.  You can do whatever you want with it.  For a thicker icing, add more powdered sugar.  For a thinner icing, add more water.  If you want it richer, use cream or milk instead of water.  For more intense flavor, add another splash of vanilla.  Make it to suit your tastes.  And always taste it!

Add a small dollop of icing to the center of each cookie, and spread it outward towards the edges in a circular motion with a spoon.  Sift granulated sugar (colored, if desired:  just a few drops of food coloring and a lot of mushing in a Ziploc bag will do it) over the iced cookies.  Allow icing to set.

And now, an anecdote about nutmeg graters, since it sprung to mind as I was grating my nutmeg this afternoon.  When I was young, I went on a trip with my parents, and for some reason we were driving two vehicles.  I was riding with dad, and someone else was riding with mom.  As we drove down the highway, I remarked on all the thistles growing wild along the roads, and dad recited a little ditty for me:

Tender handed touch a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains,
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.
So it is with common natures,
Treat them gently they rebel,
But be rough as nutmeg-graters,
And the rogues obey you well.

This verse was printed in a dictionary by Samuel Johnson under the entry for “Grater,” and was attributed to A. Hill.  Dad had read it there and remembered it.  In due course we arrived at our destination, dad’s vehicle leading.  He bypassed a choice parking spot to allow mom to park there, but she overlooked this and followed him through the lot.  He exclaimed in frustration, whereupon I grinned at him and said, “Treat them gently, they rebel.”  And he grinned back, his temper for once neatly defused by his youngest daughter.

And so I leave you to contemplate what treat I may concoct next week.  Happy baking!

Baking Challenge: Margarita Cookies!

July 14, 2011

Number 312 from my “1001” cookbook turned out to be a delightfully refreshing summer treat.  These shortbread-like cookies are just bursting with citrus flavor, and are so quick and easy to make!  Everyone in the house liked them a lot, and we’re a finicky bunch.  My nephew, who is a big fan of Guy Fieri and his show “Triple D” on Food Network, took one taste and said they were “killer.”  But no worries; you won’t die.  In fact, they were so good I’m going to bake another batch.  I recommend you double this recipe, because it isn’t going to make nearly as many as you’ll want.  There are two variations:  one with alcohol, one without.  I did the latter since I’ve got a 7-year-old under my roof, but I’ll post both for the more adventurous palates among you.

Margarita Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (again, I used regular granulated; works fine)
finely grated rind of 1 lime (a microplane is handy for this)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange liqueur or 1 tsp orange extract (I used the latter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place the butter, sugar, and lime rind in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and orange liqueur.  Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until combined.  Scoop up tablespoons of the dough, place them on the baking sheets, and flatten gently.  The bottom of a glass dipped in sugar is a simple, non-sticky way to do this.  However, make sure said glass has a flat bottom and is not even slightly concave.  I chose a beer glass I thought to be flat once, but I realized later it was slightly inset after it yielded cookies with a sort of hollow in their bottoms.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Let cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then carefully transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Icing

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp white tequila OR two tbsp fresh lime juice (again, I used the latter)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, and stir in enough tequila or lime juice to give the mixture the consistency of thick cream.  Leave the cookies on the wire racks and drizzle the icing over them with a teaspoon.  Let set.

Join me again next week, when I’ll attempt to unravel the secret of sour cream cookies!

Baking Challenge!

July 12, 2011

I love baking.  It appeals not only to my sweet tooth,  but to my O/C tendencies.  Baking is very precise.  You follow the recipe, add exactly the right amount of each ingredient in the right order, and voila!  Tasty treat.  The only trick is learning when to take things out of the oven.  Baking times in recipes (much like yields) are almost never accurate, so you’ve got to watch things and learn to recognize when they’re done.  But once you’ve got that down, you’re golden.  A light golden brown, to be exact.  I haven’t found general cooking to be the same.  Cooking is more intuitive.  You can leave this out, throw that in and play with your recipes a little.  I’m not good at improvisation.  I like to know exactly what I’m doing, step by step.  So though I’m making an effort to learn basic cooking, I prefer to bake.

I was given two very nice recipe books this year:  “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” (a re-print of the original from 1963) and “1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & Other Tempting Treats.”  Both of them are excellent.  They have many unique recipes, and it’s fun just thumbing through them.  I’ve experimented with some recipes over the last few months, but there are still many I want to try!  So, like my good friend over at The Kelly Kitchen, I’ve decided to set a baking challenge for myself.  My goal is to try one new recipe each week, and post it here with my own notes.  I’m a terrible procrastinator, so if I actually meet my challenge, I’ll probably wind up baking every Sunday night.  If you know where I live, feel free to drop by of an evening for some sweets and a glass of milk!

I started off gung-ho, and actually did two recipes in one night, but then I stalled out and didn’t bake for two weeks, so I guess that evens out.  We’ll see how I do this week.  The first recipe is a variation on a traditional peanut butter cookie from the Betty Crocker book.  It substitutes honey for the brown sugar, and eliminates half the shortening.  I found they browned much quicker than the peanut butter cookies I usually make, and they had a more chewy texture.  They got kind of stiff after they’d been in Gladware for a week, but I microwaved them for 10 seconds, and they tasted perfect.  So here’s the recipe, as printed in the book.  My own notes are in italic.  The Betty Crocker book sometimes has amusing little commentaries and anecdotes under the recipe titles, and I’m including them just because I get a kick out of them.

Peanut Butter Cookies
So rich, good with anything; a favorite with men and children.  Many homemakers double the recipe since these cookies disappear quickly.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening, peanut butter, sugars, and egg thoroughly.  Blend all dry ingredients; stir into shortening mixture.  Chill dough.  Skipping the chilling step makes it very sticky to work with, especially if you do the honey variation, but I’m impatient, so I did it anyway.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough in 1 1/4″ balls.  Place 3″ apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten crisscross style with fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes.  I don’t do the fork thing.  I roll the dough into balls, and flatten them with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.  It makes the cookies more uniform, and gives them a nice sugar-crystallized top.  Dip the glass in a bowl of sugar between cookies.  Otherwise they’ll stick.  Also, they don’t take nearly that long to bake.  Mine took 6-8 minutes.  Watch them closely, and when they begin to brown on the edges, take them out!  They are easier to remove from the pan if you let them cool for a few seconds first.

Honey Peanut Butter Cookies

Make Peanut Butter Cookies (above) except use only 1/4 cup shortening and use 1/2 cup honey in place of brown sugar.

The second recipe I baked that night was simple vanilla cupcakes with basic buttercream icing.  I hadn’t made cupcakes from scratch until I got the “1001” cookbook for my birthday.  I’d always used a cake mix and had good results.  I tried one recipe in the book before doing these vanilla cupcakes (peanut butter cupcakes with cream cheese icing) and they didn’t turn out particularly well because I misread the recipe and divided it into 24 cupcakes instead of 16.  They were too small, so they baked too quickly, overcooked, and dried out.  So I made sure to fill each cupcake paper 1/2 to 3/4 full for the vanilla ones so they were big enough.  These recipes yield a more dense type of cake than I’m used to from cake mixes.  They aren’t as light and fluffy.  They’re almost more muffin-like, but they’re still tasty.  Here’s the recipe:

Vanilla Cupcakes

generous 8 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (I used regular granulated; it was fine)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
scant 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups regular flour)

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two 12-hole muffin pans with 18 paper liners.  I only did 13 or 14, but some of them were big; you could probably stretch to 18.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Spoon the batter into the paper liners.  Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden and springy to the touch.  Mine took a few minutes more since I only did 13 or 14.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Top with buttercream icing.

Buttercream

1 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp cream or milk (Cream is richer, but milk works just fine.)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place the butter and cream in a bowl and beat together.  Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.  I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to give it more flavor.

Stay tuned for this week’s challenge:  margarita cookies!  I’ve got limes chilling out in the fridge; should be quite a party!