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.

Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins

A stack of Lem Ginger Cornmeal Thins

A benefit of working from home during COVID-19 is the ability to move my office outdoors when the weather’s agreeable. The climate, this week, has been extremely fine and, today, I find myself perched at my patio table, under the sailcloth, bare feet propped on a nearby chair, listening to the mocking birds shout their heads off nearby. This time of year in LA is lovely.

The downside of this COVID-19 quarantine is that I’m baking madly through the pandemic – and gorging my way through the results. I’m lamentably watching the number creep up on my bathroom scale. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but it’s times like these that I really wish my culinary forte was low-cal, low-carb, healthy meals.

I managed to share these cookies with my guy so I didn’t eat the ENTIRE batch, but pretty darn near close to it. When you bite into these thin, crisp cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon (yes, 2 Tablespoons of zest is correct!) followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger. They’re so addictive, I’m ready to bake another batch!

*Recipe adapted from Lori Longbotham’s lemon-black pepper cornmeal cookies.


Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins

  • Servings: Approximately 3 dozen
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These cookies are best when pressed as thinly as possible to ensure maximum crispness. When you bite into these thin cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon (generous) finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Additional sugar for shaping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat the butter, sugar, zest, and ginger in a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed just until blended; the dough will be crumbly.
  3. Scoop teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Place on silpat or parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass in sugar and press each ball into a very thin disk – about ⅛” thick.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, switching sheets half-way through baking. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. I have no doubt these would be fabulous sandwiched with white chocolate ganache.

Coconut Brownie Buttons

A plate of Coconut Brownie Buttons

I’m only 15 days into California’s shelter-in-place mandate and I’m already tired of staring at the same living room each day and evening, which reminds me of a recent creative writing assignment I completed on just that subject – my living room. I apologize in advance for the length of this post – feel free to skip to the recipe. I won’t mind.

LIVING ROOM

Georgia O’Keeffe, a hero of mine, painted every wall of her beloved home in Abiquiu, NM creamy white. The effect was modern, calming, soothing, and the perfect counterbalance to her large, colorful canvases hung on the walls. I wonder what she’d think of my living room. The first thing she’d notice is the cacophony of colors. I’ve painted the walls a vivid brick red. The imposing mid-century fireplace pops from the corner thanks to a shade of golden wheat. The kitchen wall peeks from the opposite corner, a sagey green. Warm tones, in general, except for the daring teal velvet mid-century wing chair; its color repeating itself on a throw pillow, in a niche, in candles, on a decorative plate. I’ve read in decorating books that tertiary colors should be repeated at least three times to help your eye move about easily. In this painter’s box of color, I’ve taken that recommendation to heart. There are dabs of all these colors – and others – spattered throughout this rainbow palette.

The bare, wooden floors, in contrast, glow a dark Brazilian cherry, reminding me of a racehorse’s shiny coat. I believe breeders call that color “sorrel.” For a long time, I envisioned breaking up the expanse of dark floor and tempering the explosion of color with a large, white, fluffy flokati rug. I finally thought better of it, knowing a white rug would quickly turn a dingy gray underfoot, especially with two cats. The “boys”, the constant residents of this space, spend more of the day here than I do, lounging in the sun, determinedly grooming themselves, and wrestling each other into submission. Consequently, every surface, from floor to couch to coffee table, is covered in a layer of their hair. In fact, just before the cleaners are due for a visit, it’s common to watch cat-hair tumbleweeds slowly roll their way across the floor to accumulate in the room’s remote corners.

My sister, Susan, says my living room reminds her of Pablo Picasso’s apartment in the 1960’s. Since she’s never met Picasso – or seen his apartment, I’m dubious of her comparison, although she explained it to me once – it’s the juxtaposition of eras, of textures, of cultures, not unlike photos of his mid-century abode randomly scattered with mismatched sculptures, found items, and art. My sunken room and its furnishings are decidedly sleek mid-century modern, yet the step down is weathered Saltillo and glazed Spanish tiles. The menacing antique puppet in the corner is Balinese, the embroidered tapestry on the wall Oaxacan, and the ceramic vase hand-thrown by a Santa Ana Artwalk artist, a steal at $25. Another decorating rule I subscribe to is, “mismatched items you truly love will always go together.” These are my loved items – my collection. A less flattering comparison would be that the décor tends towards a Pier 1 sale aisle.

The entire west side of the room looks out on the backyard, thanks to a bank of ten wooden-framed windows original to the 1950’s house. There’s no blinds or curtains to obscure the view. I’ve left them bare so I can watch the morning squirrel and bird going-ons as I sip my coffee from the comfort of my couch. Just before sunset each evening, the room shimmers with direct afternoon light reflecting golden off the polished wooden floor, silver coffee table and flurry of ubiquitous swirling cat hair in the air. It’s often the motivation needed to grab the Swiffer, as the final light rays sink behind the garden wall.

The cookie recipe below is ideal during this time of self-quarantine because it requires minimal ingredients – and substitutions are encouraged. Out of walnuts? Any nut or combination of nuts will do. Don’t have coconut? Roll the cookies in powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Don’t want to go to the store for cocoa powder? Leave it out and let the flavor of the nuts shine! Plus, dare I say, with no flour, minimal sugar, and heart-healthy nuts, they are somewhat good for you – just like staying at home these days.


Coconut Brownie Buttons

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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Rich chocolate cookies with a crisp coconut outside and soft fudge-like middle.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove coconut and set aside.
  2. Place walnuts in the bowl of food processor and process until well chopped. Add sugar and process until mixture looks like sand. Add cocoa powder and salt and process until combined. Add egg white and vanilla extract and process until dough comes together. Transfer bowl to refrigerator and refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Divide dough into 16 equal balls (about 13 grams each). Roll each ball in reserved coconut and place on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes until coconut is lightly toasted and cookies are barely firm to the touch (you want the outside crisp, but the inside fudge-like). Cool for a few minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Hazelnut Orange Cookies

Delicate, crumbly cookies with a wonderful snap, flavored with the unique combination of hazelnuts and orange – a perfect addition to a holiday cookie plate.

A stack of Hazelnut Orange cookies tied with a green ribbon

It was 1997 and the Barnes and Noble store at the nearby suburban strip mall had recently opened. I wasn’t a competent baker then; my sister was the baker. The book I chose was the Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook – plenty of recipes, plenty of photos. These hazelnut orange cookies were the first recipe I tried. I thought they were delicious at the time, with a delicate, crumbly texture and pretty appearance. I resurrected the recipe this year for our neighborhood Bunco cookie exchange and they are just as special as I remember them. This recipe makes a ton of cookies – about eight dozen, enough for the Bunco cookie exchange and a few dozen for the office, or just cut the recipe in half.


Hazelnut Orange Cookies

A delicate, crumbly cookie with a wonderful snap, flavored with hazelnuts and orange.


Ingredients

  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ (generous) teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Sugar
  • Hazelnut halves for garnish

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, powdered sugar, softened butter, oil, orange zest, vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until combined. Stir in finely chopped hazelnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oven to 375⁰ F. Shape dough into scant 1” balls (15 grams each) and roll in sugar. Place 2” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, top with a hazelnut half.
  3. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until barely golden around the edges. Cool for 1 minute; remove to racks and cool completely.

Holiday Cookie Round-up

Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas is just around the corner, which in my house means its cookie-baking season. Here’s a round-up of some of my personal favorite cookie recipes that are sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Happy Baking!

Bakewell Biscotti

Bakewell Biscotti
Crunchy Cranberry Almond Biscotti stuffed and baked with cranberry jam and buttery marzipan crème – ummm…yes, please!

Bizcochitos Cookies

Biscochitos
Biscochitos are a regional cookie from New Mexico and are typically served during special celebrations, especially during Christmas with hot chocolate. In 1989, New Mexico made the biscochito its official state cookie. These cookies are a reminder of a quintessential snowy Christmas Eve I spent in Santa Fe bundled up for the beloved annual farolito walk. My most memorable Christmas Eve ever.

Hermit Cookies

Hermit Bars
Chewy bar cookies from New England heavily spiced and chocked full of plump raisins and crunchy walnuts.

Millionaire's Shortbread

Ginger Hazelnut Millionaire Bars
Inspired by one of my favorite recipes for Ginger Crunch Slices, these rich bars combine buttery shortbread, spicy ginger-cardamom caramel, creamy bittersweet ganache and sweet-salty hazelnut “croquant.”

LU Pim's

Jaffa Cakes
Not technically a cookie, these British biscuits are still a holiday favorite of mine. I usually succumb to the packaged variety, called Lu Pim’s in the States. In addition to chocolate and orange being one of my much-loved combinations, it’s a textural thing – the crack of a think dark chocolate coating giving way to a gelatin layer atop a sliver of moist genoise sponge.