Easy Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies decorated with colored sugar on a pink plate

Today’s Musings:
A short piece I’m working on for the book – not fully baked yet.

Fishing: Your first kiss caresses my lips gently, yet its current surges through my blood and sinew.  Can I convey all that is wrapped within this one pure and simple gesture?  There’s the “jigging” before the kiss – playful glances, and easy banter about nothing, our attention too focused on the inevitable for meaningful words. Toying touches. A brush of your fingers across my knee. The slightest tickle as my arm grazes yours.  We linger and take our time. Yet, throughout this game, you tug gently, attempting to draw me towards you with your invisible line.  I fight the urge to move.  “Please,” something instinctive and primal cries from within me, “I cannot wait any longer.” I strain against the lure; I cannot look into your eyes.  At last, the slightest stirring animates your being and, with an almost indiscernible shifting toward me, your lips capture mine and I succumb. We’re drawn together; I am caught.  Don’t ask me for permission – I cannot speak now – can’t you see my answer is “yes?”  Kiss me and let me drown in the current of your soft lips on mine.  With your tongue, wrench me from the center of my being.  I am dizzy; I am floating.  A torrent surges through my veins and churns hot between my thighs.  I am languid within your arms. Breathe your warmth into me. Where do I end and where do you begin? I don’t know, I don’t care – just let this kiss wash over me forever.    

Today’s Recipe:
These simple cookies caused a bit of controversy with my taste testers.  I baked three batches using either white sugar, powdered sugar, or light brown sugar.  The powdered and brown sugar versions had an equal number of fans with a 50/50 split (sorry white sugar).  If you are craving a classic shortbread sugar cookie with a crispy snap, the powdered sugar cookies will fit the bill. The brown sugar (see variation) in the other version gives the cookies a buttery, toffee-like flavor and crunchy texture. Since each recipe only makes a dozen cookies, you can bake both and conduct your own taste test.

Easy Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 12 cookies
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When you’ve just gotta have cookies, these buttery sugar cookies can’t be beat and come together in a snap. It’s so simple to whip up a batch of these crispy, shortbread-like babies with ingredients you probably already have on hand. Add whatever optional flavoring strikes your fancy.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • Flavoring such as ¼ teaspoon vanilla or ½ teaspoon lemon or lime zest (optional)
  • ¼ cup sugar for coating (white sugar, turbinado sugar, or colored sugar)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat sheet. Beat together salted butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Beat in flour in two additions until dough comes together (don’t overmix or cookies will be tough). Beat in flavoring, if using.
  2. Divide dough into 12 equal parts. Form into balls, roll in your preferred coating sugar, and place on baking sheet. Press cookies flat with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup.
  3. Bake for 10-12 minutes until edges are golden.

VARIATION: Replace powdered sugar with ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar and increase flour to 1 cup.

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Eccles Cakes

A plate of Eccles Cakes with a cup of tea

Yes, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of an Anglophile. And, with the holidays just around the corner, I don’t simply dream of a white Christmas, but a Dickensian one. I imagine a holiday with Victorian carolers strolling snow-covered cobbled streets, a cozy Cotswold cottage lit with candles and scented with crackling roast goose and steamy figgy pudding, pulling Christmas crackers with family and friends around the table, and nibbling treats like these very British Eccles cakes.

The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table.


Eccles Cakes

An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry. The origins can be traced to the town of Eccles, formerly within the Lancashire boundary, but now a suburb of Manchester. Weights are in grams, nodding to their British origin.

Ingredients

    Filling
  • 120 grams currants
  • 50 grams candied orange peel, chopped
  • 50 grams butter, softened
  • 40 grams light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • Zest of ¼ lemon
  • Juice of ½ orange
  • 1 Tablespoon brandy
  • Pastry
  • 250 grams All-purpose flour
  • 5 grams salt
  • 250 grams very cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 125 milliliters ice-water
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)

Directions

  1. Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute until butter is melted. Cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
  2. Pulse flour, salt and butter in a food processor until butter pieces are pea-sized. Gradually pulse in about 100-125ml cold water until mixture comes together into a dough. Do not overwork.
  3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold the top third down into the middle, then the bottom third up over the top, then rotate the pastry 90 degrees so the fold is now vertical. Roll out again and repeat then wrap in cling-wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, folding, rotating, rolling and folding one more time. Chill for an hour.
  4. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface a little thicker than 1/8th of an inch, then cut out rounds about 3 ½ inches wide. Put a half-tablespoon of filling in the center of each, then dampen the edges of the circle and bring the edges into the middle, pinching together to seal well. Put on a parchment-lined baking tray smooth side up, and squash slightly until flattened. Repeat with the rest and chill for 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove pastries from refrigerator, brush with egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut three slashes in the top of each and bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and well-risen. Allow to cool before eating – the filling will be hot.

Bergziegenkeks (Mountain Goat Cookies)

A white plate of Mountain Goat cookies with a sprig of lavender

Today’s Musings:
What do you do when you find yourself with an extra 20 minutes to spare?  Work out?  Go for a walk?  Scroll Facebook?  For me,  the obsessive baker, an extra 20 minutes usually results in throwing together the ingredients for a small batch of cookies, devoured that same day, regrettably often in one sitting.  The kitchen is my nirvana.  Sometimes I wonder why 75% of my home exists.  Nestle my bed next to the stove and I could happily reside in my kitchen (it would save on heating bills, too).  These simple cookie recipes are usually quick experiments inspired by whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand; nothing serious, nothing special, nothing blog-worthy, just a quick baked-good fix for my ever-present sweet tooth.

The other night,  while waiting for Mr. M to arrive for dinner,  I found myself with just such a pocket of time.  With no dessert planned, and spying a bag of almond meal on the counter, I quickly whipped up these cookies, rationalizing that these humble treats would be better than nothing, even if they weren’t up to my usual baking standards.  I was astonished when Mr. M said they were practically  “the perfect cookie” – not too sweet, loaded with spices, not overly rich, crispy on the outside with a tender interior.  He even claimed they were a contender to my sister’s buttery, crumbly, oatmeal flips,  my all-time favorite cookie.  High praise, indeed. 

An added bonus – the ingredients, on the whole, aren’t overly decadent…no butter, milk, yolk, or flour.  In honor of Mr. M,  I’m sharing this throw-together recipe that ended up being my first hit of 2022.

Today’s Recipe:


Bergziegenkeks (Mountain Goat Cookies)

  • Servings: A dozen cookies
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These spicy cookies are not overly sweet, crispy on the outside with a tender interior, and come together in a jiffy.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond meal or almond flour*
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon allspice
  • Generous pinch white pepper
  • Pinch salt
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well until fully combined. Measure and roll into 12 equal balls (about 15-16 grams each). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Slightly flatten each cookie with your fingers.
  2. Bake for about 1 7 minutes or until tops are firm and a few cookies are just barely browning around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).

*Typically, almond meal is made from unblanched almonds while almond flour is made from blanched almonds. Either will work in this recipe.  If you use almond flour, expect a lighter colored, more delicate looking cookie. 

Simple Butter Cookies

Today’s Musings:
He leads me to his favorite dive, 2J’s Lounge in Fullerton – packed with barflies, blue collars, and tattooed chicks in tank tops. Two stools, lit by the glare of blue Budweiser neon, are open at the bar. He orders us Cuba Libres.  As we sit, our jeaned thighs lightly graze against each other and then rest, knees touching. Lust stirs between my legs at the sensation of our bodies testing this chemistry.  He brushes his arm against the back of my hand, gently places his hand for just a moment on my thigh as he speaks, as if not deliberately. I stroke the soft inside of his tattooed arm and rest my hand in his, fingers entwined. Alcohol has made me bold – enough of this game.

He kisses me. He doesn’t ask permission; he doesn’t hesitate. He leans towards me, his lips on mine, his tongue inside my mouth. Mmm…Yes. I like the way he tastes.

He’s not afraid to kiss me in this public place. His hand caresses my lower back, my waist. He kisses me with passion; his day’s worth of stubble leaving my chin raw. A wrinkled regular at the end of the bar shouts, “give her back her tongue!” We laugh, but I’m unsettled by his intensity, this lack of modesty among these strangers.

We kiss and drink and share secrets, finishing another round.  It’s late and we decide to leave the bar’s seediness, weaving our way across the parking lot towards my red convertible. I lean back against the rough cinder-block wall;  pulling him with me, kissing him, being kissed. We move to the side of my car. I feel him, hard and hot, pressed against my own desire. His chest is firm beneath my hands. I’m drunk off rum and yearning. Too fast, this is going too fast. My logic and this ache for him doing battle in my head,  I plead, “Let’s make this last; let me know your brain before I learn your body.” He doesn’t want to comply.

He asks to see me tomorrow. I’m making him wait until next weekend. A daytime date – an attempt to slow us down. He wants my body. I want something more.

Oh, but I do like the way he tastes.

Today’s Recipe:
In general,  I’m known for complicated, multi-step desserts that take most of the day to complete.  There is another side to my baking, however – the late night, small batch, craving something sweet, down and dirty, immediate gratification bake. This is a handful of recipes that ensure a confectionary pacifier can be in my mouth in less than 30 minutes, like these simple sugar cookies.  I can add whatever’s on hand to change the flavor – lemon zest, spices, shaved chocolate, nuts, jam or Nutella filling.  For the photograph above,  I made an ersatz “Biscochito” version, adding crushed anise, rolling them in cinnamon sugar and flattening them with the bottom of a glass.  From concept to cooling rack in 25 minutes.  


Simple Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
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When I’m craving something sweet late at night, these cookies fit the bill. I can add various flavorings or ingredients to doll them up – using whatever I have on hand.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla (or other flavoring)
  • 1 ⅓ cups sifted all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy with a hand mixer or whisk. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in flour. Form cookies into desired shape (drop, pressed, rolled, etc.) and bake 12 to 14 minutes, until just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool slightly and enjoy. Instant freshly-baked cookies, perfect for dunking.

Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

A plate of ginger pecan balls

Today’s Musings:

My sister and I were debating the merits of holiday Eccles Cakes vs. Mince Pies last weekend.  I voted for the mince, since they’re easier to make.  Each year, Christmas cheer comes hesitantly for me.  When I tear off the second to last page on the calendar, I dread the work that lies ahead over the next 24 days.  2019 was a snap; we packed our bags on the 15th and headed to London, not returning until the holiday rush and festivities were over.  This year, I was even undecided about exchanging gifts with the family.  Then, perhaps with the help of some holiday magic (or spiked eggnog), my mood began to change.  In the first few days of December, I agreed to the gifts and the hosting (I’m the only one who can).  By mid-month, my Christmas spirit was beginning to stir. We trekked to Santiago Canyon to select our freshly-cut tree (no parking-lot version for us!), sang carols as we decorated, and drove about town to four different stores looking for lights (My new pro tip:  Not Target; your neighborhood Walgreens).  As I write this, I’ve devoured two panettone, baked mince pies and panforte, and have my recipes ready for Christmas morning stollen, Christmas Eve dinner, and mulled wine.  I’ve also volunteered to assemble luminaries to decorate our street on Christmas Eve and, last weekend, drove through the neighborhoods looking at holiday lights.  My house smells of pine and crackling logs (I ALMOST spent $30 for 4 Irish peat briquettes).  I’ve watched A Christmas Carol (although not my favorite version with George C. Scott) and invited some friends (within my bubble) for Christmas Day ham.  Today’s to-do list includes a trip to the butchers (not for a goose, Mrs. Cratchet, but a boneless lamb roast), gift wrapping, and these easy Ginger Pecan Rum Balls.  With less than one week to go, I’ve found my holiday spirit after all, as I always do.  So, Happy Holiday from my (hesitant) house to yours.  

Today’s Recipe:


Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

  • Servings: About 24 Balls
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Easy spicy ginger holiday treats spiked with a good dose of dark rum. Feel free to play with the ingredients – different crumbs, nuts, or spirits can provide an array of flavors.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups ginger snap crumbs
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
  • 3 Tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until pecans are finely ground and dough forms into a ball.
  2. Roll dough into small balls (about 13-15 grams each) and roll in powdered sugar
  3. Store in an airtight container. Let sit for at least one day to allow flavors to meld; they will get more flavorful with each day.