Saturday, January 15, 2011

Post holiday

The holidays are over. Perhaps you never want to see, let alone produce, another baked good as long as you live. Perhaps your New Year’s resolutions involve restricting your consumption of butter and sugar. Perhaps you got that norovirus that’s been rampaging around the northern hemisphere for the past six weeks and would rather not eat anything just now, thankyouverymuch.

On the other hand…perhaps you’ve got the January blues. Perhaps you need a little pick-me-up of something sweet and crisp to motivate you to finish taking down the decorations. Perhaps you’ve been snowed in for two days and you’re wondering if they’re ever going to re-open the schools and in the meantime you can’t think of another activity to entertain the small ones in your house nor can you face the thought of bundling them into all those clothes so they can go outside in the snow again.

If you fall into the second category, these might just hit the spot. And if you’ve got any of those small ones running around, this is a good recipe for involving helpers—straightforward to make, with compellingly eatable results.

Zodiacs Sugar Cookies
Adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe
Named after my English ice hockey team who, no matter how many I made, devoured them all and demanded more. I almost always manage to make these at Christmas, but they are enthusiastically received year-round.

2 cups (10 oz/300 g) all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
16 Tbsp butter (2 sticks/240 g), softened but still firm
1 cup (7 oz/210 g) granulated sugar, plus ½ cup for rolling*
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ tsp vanilla

Whisk dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined, about another 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and beat for another 30 seconds. (You may need to finish combining by hand, as dough is stiff.)

At this point, there are two ways you can form the cookies: now or later.

To bake using either method
Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower- middle positions. Preheat over to 375F/190C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Form cookies, by hand, into balls about the size of a walnut. Roll in reserved ½ cup of sugar* to coat completely. Place on baking sheets. Butter the bottom of a drinking glass and use this to flatten the cookies into wafers about 1/3-inch thick. Leave 1-2 inches between flattened cookies, as they will spread while cooking. Bake 15-18 minutes, changing position of cookie sheets halfway through, or until cookies are lightly golden brown on the edges.

Divide the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll into logs. (I use cut-open paper towel rolls to help form symmetrical logs.) Refrigerate until ready to use. (I have kept in the fridge for several days with no deterioration.) These will be slice-and-bake cookies. If you can, take the dough logs out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to work with them. The best way to slice while keeping the log round is to use dental floss. Slice off rounds ¼ to 1/3-inch thick. Coat in sugar* on both sides. Place on baking sheets, leaving 1-2 inches between slices. Bake 15-18 minutes, changing position of cookie sheets halfway through, or until cookies are lightly golden brown on the edges.

*For a simple way to make these cookies festive and occasion-specific, replace one-third to one-half of the regular sugar for rolling with colored sugar suitable to the holiday being celebrated (see picture).

Makes about 3 dozen medium-sized cookies. Recipe can be doubled or frozen unbaked.


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