Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sugar Saucers

Next to brownies, I would rank cookies as my favorite confection to satisfy a craving for something sweet and having a bit of a crunch. Like the chocolate chip cookie, there are so many different recipe variations for sugar cookies that you could spend days, weeks, even months making every version until you find the perfect one (here I go with perfect again). So maybe I can save you some time, some butter and some sugar as I think the most perfect sugar cookie was one created by Rebecca Rather. These cookies can be made large (a cookie created in Texas must be big, right?), medium or small depending on the cookie size preference that satisfies your sweet tooth craving. And if there was ever a reason to turn on the oven on a warm summer day, well this sugar cookie is worthy of adding a little heat to any kitchen (even those like mine, those without air-conditioning that is).

What is so special about these cookies other than being bakery looking beautiful and over the top delicious? They are just the right sugary, just the right amount of crunch, and just the right amount of thickness. Formed with a ice cream scoop (no rolling pin needed for these sugar cookies), they could not be easier to make. And seriously, plated on a tray your family and friends will think you went to the trouble of finding the best bakery within 50 miles of your house (some of us are willing to travel for some ingredients and foods). Once they taste these sugar cookies, your friends will be willing to drive any distance to have access to them.

Served all by themselves, with some fresh berries, or a glass of lemonade, these sugar cookies are a perfect dessert to end a lunch or dinner. They also make a great mid-day or late night snack. And I know its' only August, but these should be on your list of the cookies you make for the fall and winter holidays.

I love when a cookie calls for ingredients you already have in the refrigerator and cupboard. There are no exotic or hard to find ingredients in this recipe. Even the egg used in the recipe is the standard large size. The first six ingredients are each mixed in one at a time before the dry ingredients are added.

What gives these cookies such a great texture is use of both unsalted butter and Canola oil. And because of the use of oil, the batter will start out as thin, thicken slightly with the addition of dry ingredients and then get to a semi-firm stage (after an hour of refrigeration). 

The butter, oil, sugars, egg and vanilla are all mixed together in a stand mixer using a paddle attachment, however, the dry ingredients are stirred in with a spatula or wooden spoon until they are completely incorporated. The bowl is covered in plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour (I chill my dough for an hour and keep the dough in refrigerator as I bake each tray). I prefer baking my cookies on sheet at a time.

I have said this before, but I think it is worth repeating. Ice cream scoops are the perfect cookie making tool, a tool I could not live without. The ice cream scoop allows for making perfectly round, even sized cookies while keeping the dough from being warmed by your hands.

I used a 1 3/4 inch ice cream scoop for these cookies which yield a cookie 3 inches in diameter. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet you will place the mounds of dough approximately 2 inches apart. Just to make certain they did not touch when baking, I only placed 8 to 10 cookies on each baking sheet. Slightly flatten each cookie to approximately 1/4 inch and sprinkle with sugar before placing in a pre-heated 350 degree (F) oven. Baking time varies from 8 to 14 minutes depending on the size of ice cream scoop used to form the cookies.

The sugar cookies are done when the edges are just lightly golden. I generally look at the bottoms of the cookie to check for doneness as well, lifting one of them up with a spatula.  When done, the bottoms of the cookies will be lightly golden as well. Keep the cookies on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Immediately after taking them out of the oven, generously sprinkle each cookie with more sugar.

Once the sugar cookies have cooled completely on the rack, plate and serve or store in an airtight container. The cookies remain fresh for up to 3 days in a tightly sealed container or they can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Sugar Saucers (slightly adapted recipe from Rebecca Rather in her"The Pastry Queen" cookbook)
Makes 18-20  3" cookies

1/2 cup (4 ounces, 114 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup Canola or vegetable oil (but suggest using Canola oil)
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar plus more for dusting cookies
1/2 cup (63 g) confectionary sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla 
2 cups (256 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attaching, cream butter for approximately 1 minute.
2. Add each of the ingredient separately, beating on medium speed after each addition: canola oil, granulated sugar, confectionary sugar, egg, and vanilla.
3. Add the flour, baking soda and salt to the mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Refrigerate dough (covering the bowl) for at least an hour in order for the dough to firm up slightly.
5. Form cookies using an ice cream scoop. For 4 inch cookies, use a 2 inch ice cream scoop; for 3 inch cookies use a 1 3/4 inch ice cream scoop and for 2 inch cookies use a tablespoon sized scoop. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Press cookies to a 1/4 inch thickness. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Space cookies at least 2 inches apart.
6. In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes (for small 2 inch cookies); for 10-14 minutes for 3 inch cookies); or for 12-15 minutes for 4 inch cookies. (If you like crisper cookies add 1 to 2 minutes onto baking time.)
7. Cookies are done when edges are lightly golden and bottoms are lightly browned. Keep cookies on baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. When cookies are on the baking sheet, sprinkle each cookie generously with granulated sugar.
8. Store cookies in an airtight container (for up to 3 days). Cookies can be frozen up to 1 month.

Update Notes: (1) Instead of using only granulated sugar to sprinkle on cookies, use a combination of granulated sugar and sanding sugar. I used a 2-1 ratio of these sugars.
I was driving to the grocery store the other day, a scenic 20 minute drive (everything here is at least a 20 minute drive), when I saw that one of the ponds was perfectly still. My first thought was 'be still my heart, this is a great photo opportunity'. I immediately pulled my car over to the side of road (thankfully its' a two lane highway with not much traffic. Picture taking can sometimes be hazardous if you are paying attention only to the landscape and not other cars or bikes on the road. I know this from experience.) Capturing mirror images is something that gives me a bit of thrill. Whether its' mountains or trees reflected in the water, there is something about a mirror image photo that I find a little compelling. It is as if Mother Nature suddenly takes a deep breath and momentarily allows everything to be still. It is in this stillness that there is a feeling of calm (in this sometimes chaotic world we live in). And a little bit of calm is always a good thing.

Someday I will take a photography class (I have to stop saying this and just do it) as I harbor the fantasy of being a female Ansel Adams (yes, I dream big and I am not even from Texas!) or at least take photos that bear some resemblance to the images he captured (without a digital camera no less). I once received a digital photography book from a friend who sought to nurture my passion for picture taking, but I am one of those who when I am learning am a 'much prefers to see it rather than read about it' kind of girl.

I had thought I had a relatively good eye for images until one day, while hiking on a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, I came upon someone also taking photos. Actually this person came upon me. While I was initially rather anxious about his proximity to and conversation with me during the duration of a 4 hour hike (in my active imagination I thought I came upon a serial killer), I remained calm (or just slightly less guarded). Periodically throughout the hike he would randomly say 'there's a good shot' and I would look at where he was pointing and indeed there was a great shot. I had many takeaways (and stories) from this hiking experience, but there were a few takeaway that stayed with me. Sometimes we can't see what is in front of us, it takes someone else to help us see it. When you least expect it, you cross paths with someone who helps you take that deep breath.

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