Italian Sugar Cookies

IMG_4140Pennsylvania Macaroni Company is my favorite shop in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. If you’ve never been, you simply must go and marvel at the bins of almonds, the shelves of pasta and olive oil and sauces, the room with the cheese counter that rivals any I’ve ever seen.

In the room with the bread and fresh pasta, there are boxes of mixed bakery-style cookies, and in those boxes are cookies like these. Tender, vanilla-scented, covered in just the right amount of icing. The kind of cookies your grandmother made, and you never forgot.

I enjoy recipes with lots of ingredients and advanced techniques for the fun challenge they present, but there is also great comfort in baking something simple. These cookies are easy to prepare and could take on any color icing, making them ideal for holidays and celebrations.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the icing

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • food coloring, if desired

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing between each. Dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl when it is the right consistency.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls. (You can use a smaller scoop if you like; next time, I’ll probably use a 1-inch scoop.) Place dough on parchment-lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool before dipping in icing.

To make the icing, in a small bowl, combine milk, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar until smooth. Tint with food coloring if desired.

Dip the tops of the cookies in icing; place on wire racks and allow excess to drip off. Let stand until set, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Advertisements

Shortbread Spiral Cookies

shortbread spiralsAlthough I’ve seen many a spiral cookie in my baking travels, I’ve never made them until today. This easy recipe will make a handy addition to my arsenal, as I can see tinting the dough all manner of colors for various holidays or incorporating cocoa into the dough for a chocolate and vanilla spiral.

I’d also love to experiment with shapes, like the amazing baker at Eugenie Kitchen did with this remarkable heart cookie. Perhaps next year for St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll create a clover cookie not unlike the rainbow heart, with different shades of green – but that will take some practice.

These treats are destined for my goddaughter, Maureen, and her family for St. Patrick’s Day.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • green food coloring

Preparation

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.

Add egg, vanilla, and almond and beat well – your batter will become slightly clumpy, but once you add the flour mixture, the texture will even out.

Add flour mixture in three batches, beating well between each.

Divide dough in half and tint one half green. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for just a few minutes.

Lightly dust your counter top with flour and roll out the plain half of the dough first; you will want to create a square that is about 8 x 8. Roll out your green dough next, then place it on top of your plain dough. If your dough isn’t completely square, that’s okay; you can cut the edges to make a square and roll the scraps together to make marble cookies*.

Gently press the two layers together by lightly rolling with your rolling pin. Carefully roll up your dough to create a log, pressing gently to tighten the roll as you go. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill for about 10-15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

Remove the log from the fridge and unwrap. Slice into 1/2 inch cookies, turning the log every few slices to keep it round. Place cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until edges are just beginning to turn golden. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

*If you had to trim your dough to make a square, take your scraps and knead them together gently, creating a marbled ball of dough. Roll into a log, then chill, slice, and bake as above.

 

Toffee Saltines

Sweet SaltinesRecipes for this treat – which has various names, including “Christmas Crack” – are everywhere. My Aunt Liz makes a version that she calls pecan pralines, involving graham crackers, toffee, and pecans. I didn’t have enough graham crackers to make that version, so I’ve used the standard saltine instead.

The great thing about this treat is that it can be customized however you like. I’ve created both a plain, toffee and pecan-only version and a chocolate version, the photo of which appears below. You could add toffee bits, butterscotch chips, various nuts, or other candies if you’d like.

The non-chocolate version is for my mom, who will be coming to Christmas dinner later today. She’s been known to arrive at my house after running various errands in need of a snack, and her go-to question is always “got any crackers?” Merry Christmas, Mum.

Note: the following recipe creates a “half and half” pan of toffee saltines – half with chocolate, and half without.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter
  • About 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • About 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray very lightly with cooking or baking spray.

Place crackers on the baking sheet in a single layer.

In a medium saucepan, melt brown sugar and butter, stirring frequently. Bring to a full, rolling boil; once mixture reaches a full, rolling boil, allow it to boil for three minutes without stirring.

Remove from heat and pour over crackers, spreading carefully with a spatula to fully cover.

Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven; sprinkle half of the crackers with pecans. Sprinkle remaining half with chocolate chips and let stand for a minute or two so the chips begin to melt. Spread the chocolate on the remaining half of the crackers, then sprinkle with pecans.

Allow to cool completely before breaking into pieces.

Sweet Saltines with Chocolate

Chewy Gingersnaps

chewy gingersnapsTomorrow, there is a cookie contest in my new office. I had a hard time deciding what to make – after all, there are dozens of cookie recipes on this blog and hundreds more in the cookbooks that line my shelves. My awesome cousin Barb suggested that I go with a cookie that everyone has had, knowing that my version would knock their socks off. And so, I’ve chosen my chewy gingersnap, a delicious creation of molasses and spices.

Okay, so perhaps “chewy gingersnap” is an oxymoron. But what else can you call a traditional gingersnap recipe that is tweaked in molasses content and baking time to yield a chewy, soft cookie instead of the traditional crisp? Chewy gingersnap works for me.

The trick to these cookies is their baking time, and the limited time they’re allowed to cool on the baking sheets once removed from the oven. Bake them no more than eight minutes, and let them sit on your baking sheets for no more than two minutes, to ensure that they don’t become brittle.

Will I be victorious in tomorrow’s competition? Time will tell. At the very least, I’ll get to try lots of treats made my other bakers.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 2 1/2 ounces molasses*
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • I teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 cup sugar, for rolling

*I fill my glass measuring cup to the line just above the 1/4 cup line, which is about 2 1/2 ounces of molasses.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil. Place sugar in a small bowl.

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 1/4 cups flour with the light brown sugar, shortening, molasses, egg, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Beat on medium speed until very well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently.

Add remaining flour and beat until very well combined.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then roll each ball in sugar. Place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 8 minutes – cookies will look puffy and slightly under-baked – and cool them on the baking sheets for 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Remember, the cookies will continue baking as they cool on the baking sheets, which is why it’s very important not to over-bake them in the oven or leave them on the hot baking sheets for too long.

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

mexican choc snickerdoodlesWhere would the world be without chocolate? I know my life certainly wouldn’t be the same.

Chocolate is one of the most versatile ingredients in baking, when you think about it. How many other flavors go just as well with raspberries or strawberries as they do with peanut butter, almonds, or even pepper?

The pairing of chocolate with spices like cayenne fascinates me, because I wonder who first thought about doing so and how surprised people were when it turned out to be delicious. These cookies definitely have a bit of a kick, especially if you’re not used to peppery spices. If you’d prefer not to use the cayenne you can omit it, but be sure to keep the cinnamon in the sugar coating.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add 3/4 cup white sugar and the brown sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and cayenne pepper, beating well until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently.

Add eggs and vanilla, beating well until combined.

Add cocoa powder and beat, then add flour about 1/4 cup at a time, beating well to combine.

Cover dough and chill for about 30 minutes, until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then dip in sugar and cinnamon. Place about 2 inches apart on prepared sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are set.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then place on wire racks to cool completely.