Sugar cookies are practically ubiquitous around the holidays. Those hard, sugary fake tasting frosted (almost annoyingly bright) cookies in the shapes of santa, reindeer and stockings. These can be fun for kids, but adults I’ve talked to usually steer clear of them. Why? They just aren’t worth the calories most of the time, or the cavities.
And for the baker, these can be challenging too. There are mixes you could buy, but you know how I feel about that. And the doughs I’ve used that have all butter in them usually come out too hard and dry. I finally decided to try one last time… and now I think I finally found a winner. Unfortunately this recipe also includes shortening. While I’m morally opposed to it, I’m beginning to see how shortening can affect the texture of baked goods. My best friend swears by a shortening-butter combo for the perfect pie crust. I may just try it after all these years. But that’s for another day.
This recipe is from Real Simple magazine, December/January 2005. *indicates “secret ingredient.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup of vegetable shortening (I used Crisco)
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons Haitian vanilla* (this was brought back from Haiti for my by a dear friend- the same one with the pie crust. It is a wonderfully floral and potent vanilla. I actually don’t know if it’s available in the US. If you can’t find it, try using a Mexican vanilla. But for God’s sakes, don’t ever use imitation vanilla.)
12-16 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt a large bowl and use the easy sift method, then set aside.
2. Combine the butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer and cream them together until smooth. Slowly add the sugar, beat on medium, and scrap the bowl down if necessary. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat well after each addition (you haven’t added the flour yet, so no worries of over-beating yet). Add the vanilla.
3. Now, turn the mixer off, and get out the elbow grease! Mix in the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture 1 cup at a time. This took me awhile, and I’m short so I had no leverage 😦 But my arm sure feels strong now!
4. Take out some plastic wrap and rip off a piece big enough to wrap up half the dough. Take out half the dough and place it directly on the plastic wrap, using the wrap and your hands to form it into a disc (here’s where I differ in the original recipe, which has you flour your counter and divide in half- usually I don’t see the reason to dirty your counter for this kind of step, only if you are required to gently knead the ingredients together would I do it. Plus I don’t have any counter space). Do the same with the rest of the dough so you have 2 discs. You’ll find that this is a wonderful dough. If you are confused by that, just make it and you’ll know what I mean.
5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to a week. This can be frozen too. When you are ready to use it, let it sit on your counter for 5-10 minutes (or in your fridge overnight to defrost then let it sit on your counter). Now you should flour your counter and your rolling-pin, and roll this dough out about 1/8” of an inch thick. Cut into any shapes desired.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly golden brown around the edges. These little guys are easy to over bake, even some of mine ended up in the trash. Also, if you have some small cookie cutters you want to use, and some large, try to put all the small ones on one sheet and the large ones on the other sheet. That way you can take out the smaller ones early. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
7. Now for the chocolate dip. Put your chopped chocolate in a glass bowl or a double boiler. I don’t have one so I just put about an inch of water in the bottom of a pot and set it over medium heat. Then, after it starts simmering, place the glass bowl on top (make sure they fit each other correctly before hand- you don’t want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). The chocolate will slowly start to melt. This is really the right way to do it. If you want to use your microwave (don’t do it!) you can try looking online for Ina Garten’s way of tempering chocolate in her microwave.
When the chocolate is just melted (don’t let it cook or burn on the bottom) remove it from the heat.
8. Take your cooled cookies and dip half way up and set them on a piece of parchment paper. I re-use mine from the oven (one year when I was too poor, but still baked during the holidays, I re-used my parchment over the course of a week. While it’s embarrassing to admit, it did work and actually didn’t get gross because I would shake it off each time. Plus it gives me a frame of reference- I haven’t had to do that for many years thankfully.)
Wait until the chocolate dries before storing them in a container or ziplock.
The beautiful glossy chocolate, crisp sweet and floral cookie will re-new your adult palette’s faith in sugar cookies. Plus they are a beauty to look at.