Saturday, December 17, 2011

Holiday Baking: World's Best Sugar Cookies

This is another one of my mom's famous recipes from childhood and one she made often after school. She posted the recipe to kick off her blog back in 2008 and credits The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer once again.

And, as long as we are baking cookies, I'm going to delve into some Good Cookie Technique.

You will need:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar
Cream butter. Then stir in sugar.

1 egg
1 tablespoon cream or milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together and add to above mixture.

1 1/2 cups flour – I measure it unsifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Mix together and add to above mixture.

Preheat oven to 375.

A cookie sheet properly lined with
parchment paper
Now here's where I deviate. The recipe says to drop the dough onto a greased cookie sheet. This is a risky method, though, especially if you have a limited number of cookie sheets and plan on reusing them for several batches of cookies. The grease on the cookie sheet will heat as the cookies bake. It will also fuse with the butter and sugar in the cookies. This will lead to one of two things (or possibly both) - cookies that do not slide off the cookie sheet even though that is the purpose of the greasing, and the dreaded burnt bottom cookies. In addition, the grease prevents the surface from the cookie sheet from cooling, so the risk of burnt bottom cookies increases with each use of the cookie sheet.

There is a simple way to prevent this - parchment paper. Good Cookie Technique #1 is to never ever grease your cookie sheets. Parchment paper is like butcher's paper but not as heavy. (You can usually find it with either the flour and sugar in the baking aisle or with the aluminum foil and cling wrap. It's all over the place at this time of year, and usually on sale, so I stock up.) Lining your cookie sheet with parchment paper prevents the cookies from sticking but also shields their tender bottoms from the heat.


The portion control scoop in action

Good Cookie Technique #2 is to use a portion control scoop to drop your cookies rather than a spoon from your dinette set, especially if you are baking a ton of cookies and want to get the maximum yield from the recipe. I used to wonder how the writers of cookie recipes got 4 dozen cookies out of a recipe when I always got somewhere below half that. Then I started using the scoop and god perfectly formed cookies that totaled (and sometimes exceeded) the yield indicated. I know there are cookie hedonists out there who will scoff and say "Where's the fun in that?" It's up to you. If your cookies are a uniform shape they will cook more evenly, and if you aim for the same yield as the folks who created the recipe, you will more closely conform to the cooking time and temperature indicated in the recipe. Which, oddly enough, reduces the risk of half of your cookies being raw in the middle and the other half being burnt.



(NOTE: Bed Bath & Beyond sells a cookie scoop. Be forewarned - it kinda sucks. If you have a restaurant supply store in your area, get the smallest portion control scoop you can find. If you're in Green Bay, you'll want to head out Military Avenue to Warehouse Restaurant Equipment. It's right next to the Sara Lee outlet. It's also where I got my cookie sheets, mixing bowls, and numerous other items that I can no longer function without.)

Perfectly shaped cookies bake perfectly
OK, so we've dropped our cookies onto the cookie sheet. According to Mom, the next step is to gently flatten them and sprinkle a little sugar on top and bake them for about 8 minutes.

So most of us have multiple racks in our ovens. For baking cookies, I usually just use two and position them so that the interior of the oven looks like it's cut into thirds. One cookie sheet goes on the top rack and one goes on the bottom. Good Cookie Technique #3 is actually an all-around Good Baking Technique where multiple oven racks are needed. About halfway through the baking time, rotate your cookie sheets between the two racks so that the top sheet is on the lower rack and the bottom sheet is on the upper rack. This is especially important if you have an electric oven as that top rack puts the surface of your cookies pretty close to the heating coils. Rotating moves then away from the heat source before they get burnt. Plus it also makes for more even baking.



Like most culinary ventures, you'll need to pay attention. The cookies are done when they flatten out and are a light golden color at the edges. Mine baked in about 12 minutes. When they come out of the oven, just slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheet and onto the counter. Line your still hot cookie sheet with a fresh sheet of paper and you're ready for the next round.

I got about 36 cookies from this recipe. Here's how it appeared on Mom's blog.

If your cookies don't look right - they didn't flatten out, or they flattened out too much and appear melted - it's probably the butter. Good Cookie Technique #4 is to use room temperature butter and try to keep it there. If your kitchen heats up quickly when the oven is running, chill the dough between baking. Here's a link to an NY Times article with more good advice.



The finished product


If you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share, please email me at MarysFoodJournal@gmail.com and let me know how you would like to be identified (ie "a reader in Ellicott City" vs your actual name). Include any traditions or memories associated with the dish if you like.


1 comment:

  1. Like your confidence - world's Best! thanks for linking in.

    ReplyDelete