Friday, January 1, 2010

sugar cookies - cook's illustrated leads to my 4th attempt

cook's illustrated sugar cookie - 26So at this point I have two cookie recipes to add to the gift box to give to my parent's neighbors- chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, both Cook's Illustrated recipes. I figured, why stop there? I might as well add a third Cook's Illustrated cookie recipe to the bunch. While searching, I read rave reviews over the sugar cookie recipe. Seriously, am I going to attempt a fourth try at this cookie? (parts 1, 2, and 3 all proceedingly got better, but nothing close to being a true sugar cookie). Once again, I'm putting all my faith on Cook's Illustrated, and yes, I just had to try the recipe. Another thing I should note is that these aren't the roll and cut sugar cookies, so hopefully this plays an important role in their success.

cook's illustrated sugar cookie - 01
I wanted to be as thorough as possible while preparing this cookie. I once again halved the recipe, just as I did with the oatmeal raisins. When they stated 1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar (1/2 tablespoon in my case), I literally made sure I was exact.

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After creaming the butter and sugars together, I noticed there were small lumps. I specifically told my mom to buy new brown sugar (because hers was old and hard) but she told me to just microwave it and it'll be back to normal. After microwaving, the brown sugar was malleable, but I didn't realize how lumpy it was until I mixed it in. The left photo you can barely see the ball of brown sugar, but in the right photo you can see how it looks after I fished the crap out.

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The perfectionist I am, I sat there for about 10 minutes digging my fingers (cleaned of course) through the mixture and fished out all the balls to crumble them. I tried my hardest to thoroughly mix everything, but I knew that there'd still be some chunks hiding.

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And now onto my next lesson- splitting a single egg in half. Yes, I really am that determined to follow the recipe precisely. I first separated the yolk and whites, and then slowly dropped half of each into my batter. It turned out to be not that bad, and I'm pretty sure I was almost exact in the end.

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Everything started to form together, and it appeared that I had correctly made my fourth batch of sugar cookie dough. Once again, into the fridge.

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This is where Cook's Illustrated starts to piss me off- where they go into crazy detail on how to prepare the dough to bake. I don't understand what it means to have a bowl of cold water and use the bottom of a glass and something about sugar... Ughh. I rolled them into 1.5 inch balls (or what I thought) but I did not roll them into sugar (once again, learning from my mistakes). I flattened them, like they wanted me to, and I instead dipped one side into the sugar and placed them facing up on the sheet.

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After taking them out of the oven, I was very skeptical. Although they were slightly puffier looking that my previous sugar cookies, they still lacked the typical look of a sugar cookie.

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Okay, I don't understand- about 1/4 of the batch came out slightly burnt at the bottom. First of all, there was no sugar on the bottom (this was the case in my Peanut Butter Blossoms), and I by no means over-baked them. I can never win with these damn sugar cookies.

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So once they cooled, I took my first bite of my fourth attempt at sugar cookies.

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You'll never believe me, but these sugar cookies tasted delicious! I don't know how/why I doubted Cook's Illustrated yet again, even after I told myself not to.

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The texture, the consistency, the taste, the everything- was perfect. The sugar was not overpowering and the cookie as a whole was not hard or crisp (like they have been in the past). For that matter, the exterior wasn't even hard, which it should not be in the case of a sugar cookie.

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So I thought about why these came out a success- First of all, these were not the roll-and-cut cookies which needed cookie cutters. This probably allowed for a thicker piece of dough, which in turn leads to the right chewiness. Also, the small inclusion of brown sugar definitely had something to do with it, because brown sugar also results in chewier cookies. But what bothers me is that I always thought confectioner's sugar in a sugar cookie recipe would yield the best results, but the inclusion of it is completely missing in this recipe. Although these cookies came out excellent, I'll probably still continue to try other sugar cookie recipes, possibly including both brown sugar and granulated sugar- but we'll see later on in the future.

Taken from Cook's Illustrated

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably Pillsbury or Gold Medal (don't you love how specific they are?)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened but still firm (60 to 65 degrees) (okay, this is going a bit overboard. no, I did not take the temperature of my butter.)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling dough
1 heaping tablespoon light brown sugar
1 large egg
1+1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions; heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
2. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment or with hand mixer, beat butter, 1 cup granulated sugar, and brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add egg and vanilla; beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.
3. (now comes the ridiculous instructions) Place sugar for rolling in shallow bowl. Fill medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Dip hands in water and shake off excess (this will prevent dough from sticking to your hands and ensure that sugar sticks to dough). Roll heaping tablespoon dough into 1 1/2-inch ball between moistened palms; roll ball in sugar, then place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, moistening hands after forming each ball and spacing balls about 2 inches apart on baking sheet (you should be able to fit 12 cookies on each sheet). Using butter wrapper, butter bottom of drinking glass; dip bottom of glass in remaining sugar and flatten dough balls with bottom of glass until dough is about 3/4 inch thick.
4. Bake until cookies are golden brown around edges and just set and very lightly colored in center, 15 to 18 minutes, reversing position of cookie sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Cool cookies on baking sheet about 3 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Makes about 2 dozen

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