By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
I just finished shipping batches of Halloween cookies to family and like-family members near and far, which was just a warm up really, the prelude to Christmas cookies, and right now in my home you’ll already find cookies in various stages of production: frozen dough, frozen cookies waiting to be baked, baked cookies waiting for decorations and finally, there will be dozens of them, all shapes and sizes, decorated and carefully wrapped, awaiting shipment to those I love.
Who doesn’t have a favorite cookie recipe? Sometimes, as I sift through my mother’s collection of frayed and worn index cards, I see her familiar handwriting that carefully detailed favorite recipes for ranger cookies (made with bacon grease), spice bars and peanut butter cookies. These cards always stir many childhood memories, and I can still hear her practical advice: “Children will always ask for two cookies, so make them small.” She was partially right, though with my kids (Ryanne, Zane and Casey), it was more like two for each hand.
I was only five when I attempted my first batch of chocolate chip cookies. Maneuvering the slick countertops by tiptoe, I found the coveted chocolate chips stashed in the back of a tall cupboard. Immediately, I was inspired to create some little masterpieces of chocolatey goodness. Lacking the wherewithal for dough making, I smashed soda crackers and added water until it was the right dough-like consistency, then stirred in the chocolate pieces, formed little balls, patted them into small disks and left them to air dry. I remember popping one after another into my mouth and thought them heavenly. I owe a debt of gratitude to my oldest sister, Patty—eight years older—who duly sampled and praised everything I made and lived to tell about it (I do question her babysitting skills, however).
I still love to make chocolate chip cookies and so does Ryanne. And in our fiercely competitive manner, each of us will continue to believe that we make the very best chocolate chip cookies on earth. A couple of years ago, we had a cook-off and just yesterday, I reminded Ryanne that she was a good sport when the majority awarded best-in-house to yours truly.
Casey and Zane both love Mexican wedding cookies and look forward to receiving treat-filled packages throughout the year. After baking and shipping more than 600 hundred of those powdered sugar-coated gems to Chicago for Casey’s wedding, I assumed she had hit her saturation point, but no, they still top her holiday-treat wish list. Ryanne’s forever favorite is rich and classic Scottish shortbread. They’re also a fundraiser favorite, so whenever I bake a batch for an event, I carefully choose a half dozen of the most perfect ones to send her way. The grandkids all love sugar cookies, oozing with icing and bedazzled with bright colored sprinkles. Whenever they’re here, they love to help, and I line them up on sturdy chairs to watch the magic and add their individual, special touches. While my own children accused me of scraping the bowl down to bare metal, I make sure there is plenty of dough left clinging to the bowl, the spatula and the beaters for these adorable helpers. Over the years, my family has eaten so much raw cookie dough that we are immune to imminent danger and therefore it is not necessary for us to heed the warnings about said consumption.
I am proud of each of my children and their stellar achievements, but the truth is, I might be most proud of the fact that each of them possesses their own Kitchen Aide mixer and knows how to use it. And now, as they’re all beginning to whip up their own traditions, I don’t see my own mixer taking much of a rest. For more than thirty-five years, it has hummed through hundreds of batches of cookies: for milestones achieved, myriad life celebrations and an occasional and earnest peace offering.
Most cookies take their humble beginning from various combinations of flour, sugar and butter. From there, they transcend all boundaries as they are dropped, pressed, molded, rolled and iced into traditional family favorites. Next time a tray of homemade cookies is delivered to your door or served at a gathering, remind yourself of the love that came from the oven.
With holiday cookie baking right around the corner, this is love from my oven: my go-to recipe for sugar cookies. It is a rich tasting dough, doesn’t expand much or lose its shape, and holds up well to handling and shipping. Now, go bake some of your own favorites.
Preheat oven to 350F. Use a fresh, unopened bag of brown sugar for this recipe. If there are any lumps, sort them out and discard.
•1 cup softened butter
•1 cup light brown sugar
•½ cup finely granulated white sugar
•2 large eggs
•2 tsp vanilla (or 1 tsp orange extract)
•¾ teaspoon salt
•¼ teaspoon baking powder
•4 to 4 ½ cups white unbleached
flour, sifted (lesser amount if
chilling or freezing)
•¼ cup heavy whipping cream
•Cream the butter and both sugars together.
•Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix thoroughly.
•Add the salt and baking powder and continue mixing dough.
•Add half the flour, mix and add whipping cream.
•Add remainder of flour and mix just until smooth and not sticky (you may not need all of the flour, keep an eye on the consistency).
•Roll dough on floured surface to ¼” and cut into shapes.
•Once partially rolled (to about 1” thickness), you can also wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill for up to 2 days, or freeze up to a month.
•Roll to ¼” thick and bake at 350ª F for about 7 minutes.
•Cool on wire rack and decorate. Or before decorating, store baked cookies in freezer, in air tight container, for up to 6 weeks.
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