I spent much of yesterday evening baking cookies for the family. I did intend to make those my gifts, though I did eventually break down and buy one sister a Wii game (the absolute cheapest I could find, some Looney Tunes game for $15), and before you know it I had shelled out money on gifts for several people. At least I spent no more than $10 to $15 on each person - something the retailers didn't exactly want to hear.
But I went ahead and made those cookies anyway. They are called "refrigerator cookies", not because they're no-bake (they're not no-bake) but because you chill the dough, much like those Toll House and Pillsbury pre-made doughs. This dough makes a much tastier cookie - none of that funny high fructose corn syrup aftertaste! I got this great recipe from the 1972 Farm Journal Christmas Idea Book, now out of print (duh). Still, I think the copyright police will not be happy if I type it out. I can say that they make for tastier cookies when they are just plain, instead of having stuff mixed in with them. Even better, in my novice cookie-baking career, is to slightly undercook them. Leave them in for as long as the recipe requires and you do get a tasty yet crispy cookie. I like mine a little softer.
Maybe I can get away with a narrative description of the recipe: Basically, you take four sticks of butter, cream them and blend in one cup each granulated and brown sugar, then two beaten eggs and a generous dash of vanilla, and finally four cups of flour sifted in with a teaspoon of baking soda and a little salt. Chill for half an hour before baking. The Farm Journal chefs suggest rolling it all into a long roll and just slicing off 1/8" slivers to bake whenever company drops by unexpectedly. I find it easier to just break off pieces, roll them into a ball and flatten them on the cookie sheet. And as I found out last night, it really helps to have slightly wet hands while you're doing this. It keeps the dough from sticking all over your fingers. After twelve minutes in a 375°F oven, cool them on a wire rack. The recipe says it yields 18 dozen. It does not. It's more like 6 dozen, and those are pretty thin, average diameter cookies.
The recipe calls for variations, including coconut, pecans and chocolate. I divided the dough into eighths and chose different add-ins for each eighth (they are also good plain):
- chocolate / chocolaty chocolate chip - three tablespoons of cocoa + a dash of vegetable oil makes chocolate sugar cookies, but add chocolate chips to really get a chocolaty taste.
- assorted chip cookies - roll into one eighth of the dough about an 1/8 c to a 1/4 cup of chips. Use a variety of chips - I had semisweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, and butterscotch chips. A thin cookie with lots of chips will need less time to cook and brown faster.
- chai spice cookies - I got this idea after watching Sunny Anderson of Cooking for Real on this year's Food Network Conglomeration of Stars Christmas Cooking Special. But I couldn't remember exactly what she put in, so I improvised with what I could remember: about 1/2 tablespoons of cardamom, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a few dashes of freshly ground black pepper, all ground. It still makes for a tasty cookie, even with just those spices.
- anise cookies - I never realized how well anise and cloves went together. Grind together 1/2 a teaspoon of anise seed and about 6 cloves, and add that to plain dough. Even though the anise is very subtle, it still somehow cuts through everything else.
- balsamic and olive oil cookies - reduced balsamic vinegar on top of half the cookie, olive oil on the other half.
- cayenne cookies - cookies with a dash of cayenne pepper mixed in. I also played with the thought of mixing in some Old Bay, but that just didn't seem right.
- honey-drizzled cookies - speaks for itself
- peanut butter-jelly cookies - a cookie with a little peanut butter mixed in, topped with jelly
- smoked paprika cookies - again, self-explanatory
- The biggest failure was the balsamic-olive oil cookie (bottom two in the photo above). I made two and they turned into big , super-burnt lace cookies. Inedible to say the least.
- The honey cookies (second row from the top in the photo above) were also a big disappointment. Plus, what little I could salvage from it was absolutely inedible, with a strange flavor that tasted nothing like honey.
- The peppery cookies (cayenne in the second row, smoked paprika in the top left corner) turned out better. They're fine if you like spicy cookies.
- The one that turned out the best was the PBJ cookie, though I'm not the biggest fan of peanut butter in my cookies.